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

  • 1 Albert-Ludwigs-Universität , Freiburg, Germany
  • 2 KU Leuven, , Leuven, Belgium


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.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Anscombre, Jean-Claude & Oswald Ducrot. 1977. Deux mais en francais? Lingua 43(1). 23-40.

  • Auer, Peter. 1996. The pre-front field in spoken German and its relevance as a grammaticalization position. Pragmatics 6(3). 295- 322.

  • Auer, Peter. 2016. ‘Wie geil ist das denn?’ Eine neue Konstruktion im Netzwerk ihrer Nachbarn. Zeitschrift für Germanistische Linguistik 44(1). 69-92.

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

  • Bartón, Kamil. 2015. MuMIn: Model selection and model averaging based on in- formation criteria (AICc and alike). Available online at https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/MuMIn/index.html. Last access 3 May 2017.

  • 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 https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/lme4/index.html. Last access 23 March 2017.

  • Bell, David M. 1998. Cancellative discourse markers: a core/periphery approach. Pragmatics 8. 515-541.

  • Bell, David M. 2010. Nevertheless, still and yet: Concessive cancellative discourse markers. Journal of Pragmatics 42. 1912-1927.

  • Blakemore, Diane. 1989. Denial and contrast: A relevance theoretic analysis of but. Linguistics and Philosophy 12(1). 15-37.

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

  • Broccias, Cristiano. 2013. Cognitive Grammar. In Graeme Trousdale & Thomas Hoffman (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Construction Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Canavan, Alexandra & George Zipperlen. 1996. CALLHOME Spanish Speech. Philadelphia: Linguistic Data Consortium.

  • Clayman, Steven E. 2010. Address terms in the service of other actions: the case of news interview talk. Discourse & Communication 4. 161-183.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Cresti, Emanuela & Massimo Moneglia (eds.). 2005. C-ORAL-ROM. Integrated reference corpora for spoken Romance languages. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

  • Croft, William. 2013. Radical Construction Grammar. In Thomas Hoffmann & Graeme Trousdale (eds.), The Oxford handbook of construction grammar, 211-232. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Davies, Mark. 2015-2016. Corpus del español, web/dialects. Available at http://www.corpusdelespanol.org/. Last access 8 March 2017.

  • De Smet, Hendrik. 2012. The course of actualization. Language 88(3). 601-633.

  • Ehmer, Oliver. 2010. cespla - Corpus de Conversaciones ESpontáneas PLAtenses. http://www.cespla.de. Last access 5 January 2018.

  • Ehmer, Oliver. 2011. Imagination und Animation. Die Herstellung mentaler Räume durch animierte Rede. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.

  • Gabriel, Christoph. 2011. Hamburg Corpus of Argentinean Spanish (HaCASpa). https://corpora.uni-hamburg.de/hzsk/de/islandora/object/spoken-corpus:hacaspa. Last access 5 January 2018.

  • 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.

  • Hansen, Maj-Britt Mosegaard. 1998a. Discourse Markers. Lingua 104. 235-260.

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Heritage, John. 2013. Turn-initial position and some of its occupants. Journal of Pragmatics 57. 331-337.

  • 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.

  • Hothorn, Torsten, Kurt Hornik, Carolin Strobl & Achim Zeileis. 2015. party: A Laboratory for Recursive Partytioning. Available online at http://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/party/index.html. Last access 23 March 2017.

  • Iten, Corinne. 2005. Linguistic Meaning, Truth Conditions and Relevance. The Case of Concessives. New York. Palgrave.

  • 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).

  • 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. http://www.colam.org/. Last access 5 January 2018.

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

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

  • 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.

  • Langacker, Ronald W. 1987. Foundations of cognitive grammar. Volume 1. Theoretical prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Nemo, Francois. 2002. But (and mais) as morpheme(s). Delta 18(2).

  • Real Academia Espanola. 2016. Banco de datos (CORDE) [en línea]. Corpus diacrónico del español. Available online at http://www.rae.es. Last access 20 April 2012.

  • Rosemeyer, Malte. 2016a. The development of iterative verbal periphrases in Romance. Linguistics 54(2). 235-272.

  • 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.

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

  • Schegloff, Emanuel A. & Harvey Sacks. 1973. Opening up closings. Semiotica 8. 289-327.

  • Schiffrin, Deborah. 1987. Discourse markers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • 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.

  • Sperber, Dan & Wilson, Deirdre. 1996 [1986]. Relevance. Communication and Cognition, Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Stivers, Tanya & Nick J. Enfield. 2010. A coding scheme for question-response sequences in conversation. Journal of Pragmatics 42(10).

  • Stivers, Tanya & Jeffrey Robinson. 2006. A preference for progressivity in interaction. Language in Society 35(3). 367-392.

  • Stivers, Tanya & Federico Rossano. 2010. Mobilizing response. Research on Language and Social Interaction 43(1). 3-31.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Torreira, Francisco & Mirjam Ernestus. 2010. The Nijmegen Corpus of Casual Spanish. Proceedings of LREC 2010. http://www.lrec-conf.org/proceedings/lrec2010/. Last access 5 January 2018.


Journal + Issues

Open Linguistics is a new academic peer-reviewed journal covering all areas of linguistics. The objective of this journal is to foster free exchange of ideas and provide an appropriate platform for presenting, discussing and disseminating new concepts, current trends, theoretical developments and research findings related to a broad spectrum of topics: descriptive linguistics, theoretical linguistics and applied linguistics.