[SynSem] Michela Ippolito (U. Toronto)

The-hell questions

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Michela Ippolito (U. Toronto)

The-hell questions

This is a study of expletive the-hell interrogatives and it’s part of a larger project whose goal is to understand expletive questions and more generally bias in constituent question. We start by discussing counterexamples to two common generalizations: (i) that the-hell questions are aggressively non-D-linked, and (ii) that the-hell questions are always incompatible with which-type wh-operators. We show that previous accounts based on the idea that either expletive the-hell triggers a domain extension (e.g. den Dikken & Giannakidou 2002) or a domain restriction eliminating all familiar entities entities (e.g. Martin 2020) are challenged by these counterexamples. We propose that the-hell questions are contextually restricted just like canonical constituent questions and propose that the-hell questions carry a conventional implicature according to which every proposition in the denotation of the question is subjectively less likely (to the speaker) than its negation. We account for both non-D-linked and D-linked occurrences of the-hell questions; for the fact that the-hell questions are restricted to constituent questions; and for the intuition that, in uttering a the-hell question, the speaker believes that no given alternative is viable.

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