Skip to content
BY-NC-ND 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access May 24, 2018

When “Questions“ are not Questions. Inferences and Conventionalization in Spanish But-Prefaced Partial Interrogatives

  • Oliver Ehmer and Malte Rosemeyer EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Linguistics


The present paper analyzes the discourse-pragmatic function of introducing Spanish qué ‘what’- interrogatives with the concessive connective pero ‘but’. In some contexts, a pero-preface contributes to the interpretation of the interrogative as the realization of an interactional challenge rather than a request for information (e.g. an information question). We explore the inferential processes by which the peropreface leads to an interpretation of the interrogative as an interactional challenge and try to demonstrate that this challenge function of pero-prefaced qué-interrogatives may not only achieved ‘ad hoc’ by a local combination of the constitutive elements, but also by conventionalized form-function associations that developed diachronically. In a first step, we analyze pero-prefaced qué-interrogatives in a corpus of spoken Present Day Spanish. There are three main functions of pero-prefaces: to signal that a previous answer to the same interrogative is insufficient, to insist on an answer to a previously unattended request, or to challenge an immediately preceding action by an interlocutor. Using methodology from variationist linguistics, we identify entrenched patterns of pero-prefaced qué-interrogatives that have conventionalized the challenge function. In a second step, we conduct a diachronic variationist analysis of the development of Spanish pero-prefaced qué-interrogatives between 1700 and 1975, testing the hypothesis that the challenge reading developed later than the question reading. Our results show that due to their largely monological nature, the same inferential processes cued by pero lead to different discourse functions in historical texts. Over time, however, the use of pero-prefaced interrogatives started to become more likely in constructed dialogues. We argue that this change reflects an ongoing conventionalization of the challenge function in pero-prefaced interrogatives in spoken language.


Anscombre, Jean-Claude & Oswald Ducrot. 1977. Deux mais en francais? Lingua 43(1). 23-40.10.1016/0024-3841(77)90046-8Search in Google Scholar

Auer, Peter. 1996. The pre-front field in spoken German and its relevance as a grammaticalization position. Pragmatics 6(3). 295- 322.10.1075/prag.6.3.03aueSearch in Google Scholar

Auer, Peter. 2016. ‘Wie geil ist das denn?’ Eine neue Konstruktion im Netzwerk ihrer Nachbarn. Zeitschrift für Germanistische Linguistik 44(1). 69-92.10.1515/zgl-2016-0003Search in Google Scholar

Barth-Weingarten, Dagmar. 2003. Concession in spoken English. On the realisation of a discourse-pragmatic relation. Tübingen: Narr.Search in Google Scholar

Bartón, Kamil. 2015. MuMIn: Model selection and model averaging based on in- formation criteria (AICc and alike). Available online at Last access 3 May 2017.Search in Google Scholar

Bates, Douglas, Martin Maechler, Ben Bolker, Steven Walker, Rune Haubo Bojesen Christensen, Henrik Singmann, Bin Dai & Gabor Grothendiekt. 2015. lme4: Linear Mixed-Effects Models using ‘Eigen’ and S4. Available online at Last access 23 March 2017.10.18637/jss.v067.i01Search in Google Scholar

Bell, David M. 1998. Cancellative discourse markers: a core/periphery approach. Pragmatics 8. 515-541.10.1075/prag.8.4.03belSearch in Google Scholar

Bell, David M. 2010. Nevertheless, still and yet: Concessive cancellative discourse markers. Journal of Pragmatics 42. 1912-1927.10.1016/j.pragma.2009.12.010Search in Google Scholar

Blakemore, Diane. 1989. Denial and contrast: A relevance theoretic analysis of but. Linguistics and Philosophy 12(1). 15-37.10.1007/BF00627397Search in Google Scholar

Briz, Antonio. 1993. Los conectores pragmaticos en espanol coloquial (I): su papel argumentativo. Contextos XI/21-22. 145-188.Search in Google Scholar

Broccias, Cristiano. 2013. Cognitive Grammar. In Graeme Trousdale & Thomas Hoffman (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Construction Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195396683.013.0011Search in Google Scholar

Canavan, Alexandra & George Zipperlen. 1996. CALLHOME Spanish Speech. Philadelphia: Linguistic Data Consortium.Search in Google Scholar

Clayman, Steven E. 2010. Address terms in the service of other actions: the case of news interview talk. Discourse & Communication 4. 161-183.10.1177/1750481310364330Search in Google Scholar

Clayman, Steven E. 2012. Address terms in the organization of turns at talk: the case of pivotal turn extensions. Journal of Pragmatics 4. 1853-1867.10.1016/j.pragma.2012.08.001Search in Google Scholar

Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth & Dagmar Barth-Weingarten. 2011. A system for transcribing talk-in-interaction: GAT 2. English translation and adaptation of Selting, Margret et al. (2009): Gesprachsanalytisches Transkriptionssystem 2. Gesprächsforschung - Online-Zeitschrift zur verbalen Interaktion 12. 1-51.Search in Google Scholar

Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth & Sandra A. Thompson. 2000. Concessive patterns in conversation. In Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen & Bernd Kortmann (eds.), Cause - Condition - Concession - Contrast. Cognitive and Discourse Perspectives, 33, 381-410. Berlin: de Gruyter.10.1515/9783110219043.4.381Search in Google Scholar

Cresti, Emanuela & Massimo Moneglia (eds.). 2005. C-ORAL-ROM. Integrated reference corpora for spoken Romance languages. Amsterdam: Benjamins.10.1075/scl.15Search in Google Scholar

Croft, William. 2013. Radical Construction Grammar. In Thomas Hoffmann & Graeme Trousdale (eds.), The Oxford handbook of construction grammar, 211-232. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195396683.013.0012Search in Google Scholar

Davies, Mark. 2015-2016. Corpus del español, web/dialects. Available at Last access 8 March 2017.Search in Google Scholar

De Smet, Hendrik. 2012. The course of actualization. Language 88(3). 601-633.10.1353/lan.2012.0056Search in Google Scholar

Ehmer, Oliver. 2010. cespla - Corpus de Conversaciones ESpontáneas PLAtenses. Last access 5 January 2018.Search in Google Scholar

Ehmer, Oliver. 2011. Imagination und Animation. Die Herstellung mentaler Räume durch animierte Rede. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.10.1515/9783110237801Search in Google Scholar

Gabriel, Christoph. 2011. Hamburg Corpus of Argentinean Spanish (HaCASpa). Last access 5 January 2018.10.1075/hsm.14.13gabSearch in Google Scholar

Günthner, Susanne. 2005. Narrative reconstructions of past experiences. Adjustments and modifications in the process of recontextualizing past experience. In Uta M. Quasthoff & Tabea Becker (eds.), Narrative Interaction, 285-301. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Group.10.1075/sin.5.15gunSearch in Google Scholar

Hansen, Maj-Britt Mosegaard. 1998a. Discourse Markers. Lingua 104. 235-260.10.1016/S0024-3841(98)00003-5Search in Google Scholar

Hansen, Maj-Britt Mosegaard. 1998b. The function of discourse particles. A study with special reference to spoken French. Amsterdam: Benjamins.Search in Google Scholar

Hayano, Kaoru. 2012. Question Design in Conversation. In Tanya Stivers & Jack Sidnell (eds.), The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, 395-414. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.10.1002/9781118325001.ch19Search in Google Scholar

Heritage, John. 1984. A change-of-state token and aspects of its sequential placement. In J. Maxwell Atkinson & John Heritage (eds.), Structures of social action, 299-345. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511665868.020Search in Google Scholar

Heritage, John. 2007. Intersubjectivity and progressivity in person (and place) reference. In Nick J. Enfield & Tanya Stivers (eds.), Person Reference in Interaction: Linguistic, Cultural and Social Perspectives, 255-280. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511486746.012Search in Google Scholar

Heritage, John. 2013. Turn-initial position and some of its occupants. Journal of Pragmatics 57. 331-337.10.1016/j.pragma.2013.08.025Search in Google Scholar

Heritage, John & Marja-Leena Sorjonen. 1994. Constituting and Maintaining Activities across Sequences: And-Prefacing as a Feature of Question Design. Language in Society 23(1). 1-29.10.1017/S0047404500017656Search in Google Scholar

Hothorn, Torsten, Kurt Hornik, Carolin Strobl & Achim Zeileis. 2015. party: A Laboratory for Recursive Partytioning. Available online at Last access 23 March 2017.Search in Google Scholar

Iten, Corinne. 2005. Linguistic Meaning, Truth Conditions and Relevance. The Case of Concessives. New York. Palgrave.10.1057/9780230503236Search in Google Scholar

Jol, Guusje & Fleur van der Houwen. 2014. Police interviews with child witnesses: pursuing a response with maar (= Dutch but )- prefaced questions. International Journal of Speech, Language & the Law 21(1).10.1558/ijsll.v21i1.113Search in Google Scholar

Jørgensen, Annette Myre, Esperanza Eguia Padilla, Anna-Brita Stenstrom, Juan Antonio Martinez Lopez, Eli Marie Drange Danbolt, Mariano Reyes Tejedor, Anna Acevedo, Giovanna Angela Mura, Stine Huseby, Lise Holmvik, Solfrid Hernes, Evert Jakobsen, Kristine Eide & Marie Espeland. proyecto COLA. Corpus Oral de Languaje Adolescente. Last access 5 January 2018.Search in Google Scholar

Küttner, Uwe. This SI. Investigating inferences in sequences of action: The case of claiming “just-now” recollection with oh that’s right.Search in Google Scholar

Küttner, Uwe-A. 2016. That-initial turns in English conversation. Doctoral dissertation. In. Potsdam, Germany: University of Potsdam.Search in Google Scholar

Lakoff, Robin. 1971. If’s, and’s and but’s about conjunction. In Charles J. Fillmore & Donald Terence Langendoen (eds.), Studies in Linguistic Semantics, 114-149. Irvington: New York, HoIt, Rinehart & Winston.Search in Google Scholar

Langacker, Ronald W. 1987. Foundations of cognitive grammar. Volume 1. Theoretical prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Li, Xiaoting. 2016. Some discourse-interactional uses of yinwei ‘because’ and its multimodal production in Mandarin conversation. Language Sciences 58(Special issue: “Adverbial patterns in interaction”). 51-78.10.1016/j.langsci.2016.04.005Search in Google Scholar

Mazeland, Harrie & Mike Huiskes. 2001. Dutch ‘but’ as a sequential conjunction: Its use as a resumption marker. In Margret Selting & Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen (eds.), Studies in Interactional Linguistics, 141-169. Amsterdam: Benjamins.10.1075/sidag.10.08mazSearch in Google Scholar

Nemo, Francois. 2002. But (and mais) as morpheme(s). Delta 18(2).10.1590/S0102-44502002000300006Search in Google Scholar

Real Academia Espanola. 2016. Banco de datos (CORDE) [en línea]. Corpus diacrónico del español. Available online at Last access 20 April 2012.Search in Google Scholar

Rosemeyer, Malte. 2016a. The development of iterative verbal periphrases in Romance. Linguistics 54(2). 235-272.10.1515/ling-2016-0001Search in Google Scholar

Rosemeyer, Malte. 2016b. Modeling frequency effects in language change. In Heike Behrens & Stefan Pfander (eds.), Experience Counts: Frequency Effects in Language, 175-207. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter.10.1515/9783110346916-008Search in Google Scholar

Schegloff, Emanuel A. 1979. Identification and Recognition in Telephone Conversation Openings in Everyday Language. In George Psathas (ed.), Studies in Ethnomethodology. New York: Irvington.Search in Google Scholar

Schegloff, Emanuel A. & Harvey Sacks. 1973. Opening up closings. Semiotica 8. 289-327.10.1515/semi.1973.8.4.289Search in Google Scholar

Schiffrin, Deborah. 1987. Discourse markers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511611841Search in Google Scholar

Selting, Margret, Peter Auer, Dagmar Barth-Weingarten, Jorg Bergmann, Pia Bergmann, Karin Birkner, Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, Arnulf Deppermann, Peter Gilles, Susanne Günthner, Martin Hartung, Friederike Kern, Christine Mertzlufft, Christian Meyer, Miriam Morek, Frank Oberzaucher, Jorg Peters, Uta Quasthoff, Wilfried Schütte, Anja Stukenbrock & Susanne Uhmann. 2009. Gesprachsanalytisches Transkriptionssystem 2 (GAT 2). Gesprächsforschung - Online-Zeitschrift zur verbalen Interaktion 10. 353-402.Search in Google Scholar

Sperber, Dan & Wilson, Deirdre. 1996 [1986]. Relevance. Communication and Cognition, Oxford: Blackwell.Search in Google Scholar

Stivers, Tanya & Nick J. Enfield. 2010. A coding scheme for question-response sequences in conversation. Journal of Pragmatics 42(10).10.1016/j.pragma.2010.04.002Search in Google Scholar

Stivers, Tanya & Jeffrey Robinson. 2006. A preference for progressivity in interaction. Language in Society 35(3). 367-392.10.1017/S0047404506060179Search in Google Scholar

Stivers, Tanya & Federico Rossano. 2010. Mobilizing response. Research on Language and Social Interaction 43(1). 3-31.10.1080/08351810903471258Search in Google Scholar

Streeck, Jürgen & Ulrike Hartge. 1992. Previews: gestures at the transition place. In Peter Auer & Aldo Di Luzio (eds.), The Contextualization of Language, 135-157. Amsterdam: Benjamins.10.1075/pbns.22.10strSearch in Google Scholar

Tagliamonte, Sali & Harald Baayen. 2012. Models, forests and trees of York English: Was/were variation as a case study for statistical practice. Language Variation and Change 24(2). 135-178.Search in Google Scholar

Torreira, Francisco & Mirjam Ernestus. 2010. The Nijmegen Corpus of Casual Spanish. Proceedings of LREC 2010. Last access 5 January 2018.Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2017-05-17
Accepted: 2018-02-15
Published Online: 2018-05-24

© 2018 Oliver Ehmer, Malte Rosemeyer, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.

Downloaded on 6.12.2023 from
Scroll to top button