Question intonation contours as dynamic epistemic operators

Pilar Prieto, Joan Borràs-Comes

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12 Citations (Scopus)


© 2017, Springer Science+Business Media B.V. Although intonation has been traditionally claimed to be a strong indicator of the epistemic commitments of the participants in a discourse, very few empirical investigations have addressed specific semantic hypotheses related to the precise epistemic contribution of question intonation to utterance interpretation. The main aim of this paper is to test the claim that intonation in Catalan plays an important role in the specification of dynamic epistemic commitments in two complementary directions, i.e., speaker commitments to the speaker’s own proposition and speaker agreement with the addressee’s proposition. Following Krifka’s commitment space semantics (Krifka 2015, 2017), we will test the claim that question intonation in Catalan encodes different levels of assert (commitment) and reject ((dis)agreement) epistemic operators. A total of 119 Central Catalan listeners participated in an acceptability judgment task and were asked to rate the perceived degree of acceptability between a set of interrogative utterances (variously produced with one of four intonational contours) and their previous discourse context (which was controlled for epistemic bias). Results showed that question intonation contours encode binary (and not degree) distinctions in speaker commitment and speaker agreement. That is, results showed that question intonation encodes fine-grained information about the epistemic stance of the speaker, not only in relation to the speaker’s own propositions but also in relation to the addressee’s propositions. From a crosslinguistic point of view, we argue that intonation closely parallels the function of modal markers in their encoding of speaker commitment and speaker agreement operators.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)563-586
JournalNatural Language and Linguistic Theory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • Epistemic operators
  • Epistemicity
  • Intonation
  • Speaker agreement
  • Speaker commitment
  • Yes-no questions


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