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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Asking and Answering Questions: Discourse Strategies in Japanese

  • Author(s): Tomida, Hitomi Hirayama
  • Advisor(s): Brasoveanu, Adrian
  • Farkas, Donka
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

This dissertation explores a subset of lexical items in Japanese (contrastive wa, outer negation, and no(da)), which are strategically used in asking and answering questions in discourse. The results reveal what conventionalized discourse effects each of these items has and also how those effects work at the interface between semantics and pragmatics. Based on the discourse effects of a particle across sentence types (declarative/interrogative) and the discourse effects of questions with multiple particles, throughout the dissertation, I argue that the discourse effects of the whole sentence can be attained compositionally by putting together the discourse effects of each expression and those of sentence types.

This dissertation also aims at integrating experimental methods into semantic and pragmatic analyses of the language; Psycholinguistic experiments provide valuable clues to understanding how people use and understand utterances, with certain linguistic expressions. The formal account of contrastive wa is specifically based on the results of the experiments, which revealed that the lexical item is particularly sensitive to whether there could be contrastive questions to be pursued in the discourse. This aspect forms a part of the analysis of contrastive wa, as a language-specific conventional effect tied to this lexical item, and it interacts with its function as a contrastive topic. The analysis has broader empirical coverage than previous ones, in that it provides a way to unify the contribution of wa in declarative and interrogative sentences.

Overall, the behavior of these unique items in Japanese suggests that the discourse effects encoded into lexical items and sentence types can be compositionally derived. This is not trivial, given that not all languages allow to combine different sentence types and (multiple) discourse particles, to begin with. The exploration carried out in this dissertation implies also that this compositionality could be extended to cover other discourse management tools that languages are equipped with.

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