Concealed questions. In search of answers
This dissertation examines the semantic interpretation of various types of DPs in so-called concealed-question (CQ) constructions, as Bill’s phone number in the sentence John knows Bill’s phone number. The peculiar characteristic of DP-CQs is that they are interpreted as having the meaning of an embedded question. So, for instance, the definite Bill’s phone number from the example above can have the same meaning as the embedded question what Bill’s phone number is. Building on previous proposals from Heim (1979) and Romero (2005), I defend the hypothesis that CQs denote individual concepts (IC-approach). The main result of the dissertation is that (a) it provides genuinely new analyses for several types of CQs that seemed problematic for existing analyses, including quantified and indefinite CQs (John knows every book that Mary read this summer/a doctor who can treat your illness ), and (b) it shows that the IC-approach can deliver the right results if we allow quantifier raising and adopt the copy theory of movement (Chomsky 1995) and Fox’s trace conversion mechanism (Fox 1999, 2002).
Chapter 1 introduces initial data on CQs and briefly discusses dissimilarities between concealed questions and their embedded question counterparts.
In Chapter 2, I introduce Heim (1979) and Romero (2005)’s analysis of definite - CQs as denoting individual concepts (IC-approach). Following up on Nathan (2006), I show that the IC-approach can be extended to account for CQ-meanings of quantified DP-objects, under the assumption that the NP-CQ is shifted into a predicate of meaningfully sorted individual concepts (an assumption that was not required to account for CQ-meanings of definite descriptions). As discussed extensively in the course of the chapter, the assumption that common nouns must in some cases denote predicates of individual concepts has found independent motivation in the literature (Montague 1973, Nathan 2006, Romero 2007, among others). Therefore, the proposed extension of Heim and Romero’s analysis to the quantified cases is fairly uncontroversial.
In Chapter 3, I discuss some problems for the IC-Approach. First, I show that the analysis of quantified CQs laid out in Chapter 2 cannot be extended to quantified CQs with non-relational NPs. Second, I discuss the problematic ambiguity between pair-list readings and set readings (Heim 1979, Roelofsen and Aloni 2008) and propose that such ambiguity should be traced back to the systematic ambiguity between transitive and intransitive meanings of relational nouns. In this way, I argue that the failure of accounting for set readings under the IC-approach is just another symptom of its inability to account for non-relational NP-CQs, and that the two problems should be unified. Finally, I discuss the challenge presented by indefinite CQs with non-relational nouns.
In Chapter 4, I propose an amendment to the IC-approach that accounts for the problems presented in Chapter 3. The solution relies on the copy theory of movement (Chomsky 1995) and Fox’s trace conversion mechanism (Fox 1999, 2002). Overall, The main point of the chapter is to show that once we have an account for quantified CQ-readings with non-relational NPs, all the other challenges can also be taken into account. Finally, I propose that one further amendment is necessary to account for pair-list readings with relational nouns that are not functional.