Deconstructing Questions: Reanalyzing a heterogenous class of speech acts via commitment and engagement
Direct and indirect characterizations of the relation between clause type (syntactic form) and speech act (pragmatic function) are problematic because they map oversimplified forms onto decomposable functions. We propose an alternative account of questions by abandoning any (in)direct link to their clause type and by decomposing speech acts into two variables encoding propositional attitudes. One variable captures the speaker’s commitment to an utterance, another their expectation toward the addressee’s engagement. We couch this proposal in a syntactic framework that relies on two projections dedicated to managing common ground (GroundP) and managing turn-taking (ResponseP), respectively. Empirical evidence comes from the conversational properties of sentence-final intonation in English and sentence-peripheral particles that serve to manage the common ground.