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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Sprach- und literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Slawistik und Hungarologie

Modelling the question-statement opposition in Slavic languages (QueSlav)

DFG/GAČR project on questions and statements with and without bias, their syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and prosody in Czech, Polish, and Russian

We are very glad to announce this new Czech-German cooperative research project, to be funded jointly by DFG and GAČR in 2022–2024 in the scheme "Joint German-Czech Project Proposals in all fields of science" (DFG: ME 4125/5-1).


Primary investigators:

Prof. Dr. Roland Meyer, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Dr. Radek Šimík, Charles University Prague


Project description:

The area of polar questions and their kin – different types of bias and rhetorical questions – has recently been intensively discussed in theoretical and experimental semantics and pragmatics. The QueSlav project hopes to contribute to this debate by looking at the complex empirical landscape offered by Slavic languages. The strategies used for encoding the distinction between statements and polar questions come from a variety of grammatical areas – from syntax and morphology, through discourse and modal particles, to prosody and intonation. There is considerable intra- and cross- linguistic variation in how these different strategies are used, whether they are obligatory or optional, and what kinds of meanings they give rise to. The matter is further complicated by the existence of borderline cases such as declarative questions (questions with a declarative form), rhetorical questions (statements with an interrogative form), and bias questions (expressing speaker’s answer expectations). The project focuses on languages which, despite their genealogical closeness, make use of a whole range of question-encoding strategies, including sentence-initial verb/auxiliary placement (Czech), use of particles (Polish, Russian), placement of prosodic prominence on the verb (Russian), and use of boundary tones (all languages). In addition, the languages under investigation have a rich repertoire of discourse particles, polarity items, and question tags which are often sensitive to the statement–question (or declarative–interrogative) distinction, as well as different bias inferences, and which can be exploited for diagnosing the relevant properties of the investigated utterance/sentence types. Our leading research question is whether the type of form used for the expression of polar or bias meanings influences the conveyed semantics and pragmatics. According to the null hypothesis, question semantics is universal. The competing hypothesis we put forth is that the type of form correlates with different semantics. Syntactic strategies – which are by assumption more deeply entrenched in the grammatical system – lead to more specified semantics than prosodic strategies, which in turn exhibit stronger reliance on pragmatic and contextual cues. Polar questions are thus used as a window into the general issue of the semantics–pragmatics divide. Our approach to addressing the theoretical question is distinctly empirical. We plan on a series of experimental studies of acceptability, offline and online management of polar questions, their answers, and their contextual bias. Besides informing current theories, we wish to attain a better understanding of polar question formation and bias in questions in Slavic, to foster experimental semantic/pragmatic methods in general and to contribute to a more adequate cross-linguistic typology of polar questions.



One PhD candidate and several student research assistants will receive funding at each partner institution.