Wh-headlines in German. What they communicate and whether they optimize relevance
This paper is about a particular wh-clause type in German that is restricted in its usage to headlines. This clause type, exemplified by the newspaper headline Wie Kassen an Kranken verdienen (‘How health insurance companies make money on sick people’), formally looks like an embedded interrogative wh-clause, but is used independently as a headline with a particular, non-questioning illocution. The main question raised in this paper is how the illocution of wh-headlines is to be specified, and how it can be accounted for. The paper suggests an analysis of wh-headlines as both backward- and forward-referring means that are very well-suited to fulfill the two main functions of headlines, namely, to arouse the reader’s interest and to direct the reader’s attention to the subsequent text. The complex illocution of wh-headlines is derived from an interaction between formal properties of the clause type and contextual restrictions. In the final section of the paper, the more general question is raised whether wh-headlines can be regarded as relevance optimizers, as has been suggested for other kinds of newspaper headlines. This question is discussed based on a comparison between wh-headlines, assertive headlines and click baits.