Exhaustive Focus in Wh-Questions

Andreas Haida (Berlin)


It is a recent trend in linguistics to explain certain interpretive properties of declarative sentences by the assumption that they answer an often implicit question under discussion (Beaver&Clark 2008). For example, it has been argued that the exhaustive interpretation of an expression in the preverbal focus position of Hungarian is due to the fact that it is taken to provide a complete answer to a constituent question in the (implicit) discourse context. Hence, the argument goes, we can do without a semantic exhaustivization operator in focus constructions of Hungarian.

I will show that this argument is flawed, not least because there is strong empirical evidence that wh-phrases in the preverbal focus position receive an exhaustive interpretation too. Of course, this interpretation cannot be ascribed to the fact that the wh-phrase provides an answer to another constituent question. We have to assume a semantic exhautivization operator.