Why can't we be surprised whether it rains in Amsterdam? A semantics for factive verbs and embedded questions. Herbstritt, M. Master's thesis, University of Amsterdam, 2014. MSc thesis, University of Amsterdam, supervised by Maria Aloni and Floris Roelofsen
Why can't we be surprised whether it rains in Amsterdam? A semantics for factive verbs and embedded questions [pdf]Paper  abstract   bibtex   
This thesis is about the semantics of embedded questions and question-embedding verbs. In particular, we focus on so-called responsive verbs, i.e. verbs that can embed both declarative and interrogative complements (Lahiri, 2002). Among these verbs, the classes of emotive factives (such as surprise) and epistemic factives (such as realise) have been extensively studied in the literature, as the verbs belonging to these classes exhibit interesting properties that pose a challenge to the classic semantic approaches to embedded questions. In particular, we focus on the so-called whether-puzzle, i.e. the fact that these verbs fail to embed polar and alternative questions, while they can felicitously embed wh-questions. In the first chapter of the thesis we lay out the theoretical background and the empirical scope of the thesis. In particular, we briefly recall the classic approaches to (embedded) questions by Hamblin (1973), Karttunen (1977) and Groenendijk and Stokhof (1984) and we extensively summarise a body of recent works concerning the semantics and pragmatics of surprise and realise. In the second chapter we present a novel approach to the semantics of responsive verbs and the complements they embed, focusing on know, surprise and realise and showing how to account for the whether-puzzle. Our account crucially relies on the adoption of an additional dimension of sentential meaning aimed to capture the anaphoric potential of a sentence, which is introduced and independently motivated in the first part of the chapter, following the work by Roelofsen and Farkas (forthcoming). In the second part, we develop a semantic system in which the meaning of a complement is spelled out in terms of its semantic content and its anaphoric potential and we introduce our lexical entries for surprise and realise, showing how the interplay between these entries and the semantic analysis of complements can solve the whether-puzzle.

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