In This Article Questions

  • Introduction
  • Surveys and Handbook Papers
  • Journals
  • Conferences and Workshops
  • Edited Collections
  • Interrogatives, Complementation, and Propositional Attitudes
  • Questions in Dialogue
  • The Semantics of Wh-Phrases
  • The Syntax of Wh-Phrases
  • Wh-Words and Polar Questions
  • Contextually Bound Interrogative Constructions: Ellipsis and Echo Questions

Linguistics Questions
Jonathan Ginzburg
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0206


This bibliographical survey concentrates primarily on semantic and pragmatic aspects of interrogatives; a few references are provided to syntactic work that had a strong influence on semantic work. From a semantic point of view, interrogatives/questions play the role of the other, very much in the shade of declaratives/propositions, which have dominated the attention of logicians, philosophers of language, and linguists until recently. In that sense, interrogatives clearly play an important counterbalancing role: since they lack truth conditions, cannot be asserted, etc., they force theorists to adopt a more general perspective on semantics and pragmatics. In what follows, a terminological distinction often adhered to in this field is used, reserving “interrogative” for the grammatical type, “question” for the abstract entity denoted by an interrogative use, and (this latter use is much less commonly adhered to) “query” for the conversational move of posing a question. The works surveyed here are divided partly by historical period and partly by subject matter: until the early 1970s, most work in this area was done by logicians and philosophers of language, and the important issues were, first, why interrogatives deserve formal analysis and, given that they do, whether or not they should be assimilated to declaratives/propositions. With the rise of Montague semantics in the early 1970s, the empirical breadth of work broadened significantly. Issues such as the following attracted interest: the differences between matrix/root uses of interrogatives and their embedded uses, the nature of predicates that select for interrogatives, ellipsis in responses, coordination, the nature of answerhood, and, in particular, exhaustive answerhood. Since the early 1990s, pragmatic issues have joined the stage as central issues, not least in considering where to place the boundary in determining what questions are. Recent years have seen the emergence of formal work on how questions get used in interaction, on their role in structuring context, and on logical relations among questions. As mentioned above, this survey concentrates mostly on semantic, logical, and philosophical work. Nonetheless, one can find references here to several key works on issues relating to the relationship between syntactic position and scope, an area where wh-phrases have provided much illuminating data within and across languages. The nature of the denotations of wh-phrases and to what extent they should be analyzed in a way akin to nominal quantifiers has also been another important issue, though there is a dearth of studies of the meaning of individual wh-words.

Surveys and Handbook Papers

Most of the work on what questions are is by logicians, and this is reflected in the existing surveys, including the ones mentioned here. Groenendijk and Stokhof 1997 takes a philosophical approach, Harrah 2002 links up to quite early work, Wiśniewski 2015 is technically oriented, and Ginzburg 2011 is more linguistic, with an emphasis on interaction.

  • Ginzburg, J. 2011. Questions: Logic and interactions. In Handbook of logic and language. 2d ed. Edited by J. van Benthem and A. ter Meulen, 1133–1146. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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    Updates Groenendijk and Stokhof 1997 by surveying formal semantic and pragmatic work on interrogatives from the end of the 1990s until 2010. Addresses topics such as erotetic implication, Boolean operations on propositions and questions, questions in interaction, and the ontology of questions.

  • Groenendijk, J., and M. Stokhof. 1997. Questions. In Handbook of logic and linguistics. Edited by J. van Benthem and A. ter Meulen. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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    A survey of a wide range of semantic issues relating to interrogatives as of the mid-1990s, with an orientation for philosophical logicians. Offers detailed argumentation for the semantic difference between propositions and questions and argues against maintaining this distinction solely on the illocutionary level.

  • Harrah, D. 2002. The logic of questions. In Handbook of philosophical logic. 2d ed. Vol. 8. Edited by D. Gabbay and F. Guenthner, 1–60. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

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    A very rich and detailed survey of many different approaches to questions from early accounts (Aqvist, Hintikka) to accounts in the 1980s and mid-1990s, with an emphasis on the logical/philosophical and less on detailed linguistic accounts.

  • Wiśniewski, A. 2015. Semantics of questions. In The handbook of contemporary semantic theory. 2d ed. Edited by S. Lappin and C. Fox, 273–313. Chichester, UK: John Wiley.

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    Concerned mainly with logical characterizations of questions. Offers a rich characterization of a variety of notions from the perspective of the Polish erotetic tradition, specifically a synthetic approach dubbed Minimal Erotetic Semantics.

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