Bias in questions
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This dissertation investigates three interrogative sentence types that are each associated with a particular speaker bias. In asking one of these questions, the speaker invariably conveys a prior expectation, or belief, that a specific answer to the question is the true one. These sentence types include reversed-polarity tag questions, negative polar questions, and questions containing a strong negative polarity item or a constituent that is emphatically focused. For each of these three question types, I address the two questions: (1) What kind of meaning is bias; and (2) what grammatical feature, if any, is the bias linked to? In answer to the first question, I argue that bias is an assertion (rather than, for example, a conversational implicature). As a result, biased questions can be thought of as a type of indirect speech act (Searle 1975). Following Asher and Lascarides (2001), I model biased questions as instances of a complex speech act type Assertion · Question. On this analysis, biased questions are simultaneously assertions and questions. I provide evidence, for this claim, showing these question types share distributional properties of both assertions and questions. With regard to the second question, I argue that intonation, in addition to syntax and compositional and lexical semantics, plays a key role in linking the use of the kind of interrogative sentence described above to an assertion. Indeed, one of the benefits to studying biased questions is that they provide a case study of the interaction of intonation and discourse function. I begin to develop an analysis of intonation within the theory of discourse provided by Asher and Lascarides (2003) which builds on the work of Pierrehumbert and Hirschberg (1990) and Steedman (2000, 2003), amongst others. Specifically, I argue that intonation provides information about the speakers cognitive state, i.e. about his or her beliefs and intentions. Thus intonation contributes information that can be used to compute the rhetorical contribution of an utterance to a discourse or dialogue. On this model, intonation indirectly contributes to the determination of the discourse function of an utterance.