The pragmatics of Spanish postposed wh-interrogatives

  • 1 Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Blijde-Inkomststraat 21, Leuven, Belgium
Malte Rosemeyer


This study analyzes the pragmatics of in-situ wh- and complex bare wh-interrogatives such as ¿de qué? ‘of what?’ in spoken Spanish, developing a typology of their discourse functions. The interpretation of such postposed wh-interrogatives depends on inference processes by the hearer that take as cues both the degree to which the interrogative proposition and the referent of the interrogative pronoun/adverb are cognitively accessible. This relationship follows from the fact that on the basis of the combination of the information states of the interlocutors (i.e. the degree of accessibility of the proposition and the referent of wh) with the information structure of this type of wh-interrogatives, the utterer of the wh-interrogative can predict the pragmatic effect of a given postposed wh-interrogative token in the hearer. I establish a hierarchy of the different discourse functions on the basis of their potential to change the current ‘Question under Discussion’ (QuD). In particular, the analysis demonstrates that postposed wh-interrogatives that realize or imply a challenge to a previous utterance by the addressee of the interrogative have weaker pragmatic conditions than other uses. Consequently, I theorize that these uses are crucial for our understanding of the expansion of the use of in-situ wh-interrogatives in languages such as French and Brazilian Portuguese.

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