Queries and Predicate - Argument Relationship

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We have considered the differences between questions and requests, and their co-presence in the structure of queries. Because of the so-called “descriptive fallacy” in philosophy of language, it took rather a long time to give them the attention they were due. Thanks to pragmatics, this oversight has been rectified. Asking questions testifies to the strong relationship between lack of determinacy (poverty, both in knowledge and in action) and the need to overcome it (in order to attain plentifulness). Interrogative structures are devices where triggers such as wh-words or suspended assent are at work to retrieve missing information, extract knowledge, or receive the cooperation requested. Answers are therefore not only assertions, but also permissions, prohibitions, orders, suggestions, etc. The logico-linguistic structure which is always required across this variety of speech acts and which makes possible the wording of questions and requests is predication. Even in elliptical or simply verbless sentences, predication is at work albeit implicit or implied. To be at work means that it is a necessary condition for the complete efficiency and comprehensibility of the sentence itself. To be at work, then, means that the addressee/hearer/reader has to bear in mind, or retrieve, the predication, where the absence of recognition would prevent him/her from understanding the meaning, i.e. the semantics of the sentence. In crosstalk such as “Ready?” “Not yet.”, no verb appears, but predication is easily recognisable, as implicit (in the question) or implied (in the answer): Implicit, specifically as a part of the first turn “[Are you] ready?”, and implied as the whole turn upon which negation operates. The role of negation is in fact that of an operator, the scope of which is the whole preceding sentence structure: [It is] not yet [true that I am ready]”, i.e. the preceding sentence deprived of its interrogative mood, that is to say without the suspension of assent typical of oriented questions, and shifted to the second person (addressee) to the first one (sender). During our reconstruction of the basic views on such an evergreen topic in logic and linguistic inquiries as predication, we have argued that some routes need to be modified: I. Before predicates, theory must put predication as the basic syntagmatic act. This means the adoption of a pragmatic framework. II. Before articulating predicative relations, the sentence unit must be asserted and the reasons investigated, thus avoiding both factual and metalinguistic oversimplification. Bottom-up approaches need to be balanced by top-down approaches, which deserve a certain priority due to the causative role of the speaker and of his/her communicative intention, which gives rise to the actualisation of the speech act and to the processing of its constituents by the addressee. Compositionality is a function of (con)textuality and not vice versa. III. ‘Dissimilarity’, or ‘asymmetry’ of components (typically nouns and verbs) is the condition of ‘fitness’ which joins sentence constituents. Without it, we would merely have a co-presence, a juxtaposition, a simple addition. Beyond this, both Aristotelian and Fregean models attest to the feeling of a further (second step) relationship, a reference from the foreground to the background, from the present being (through the copula) to being as such; from single, determined objects of the spoken domain to the universe of discourse (the co-domain instituted as the truth or falsehood which the predicate-argument relationship refers to); from the objects the sentence is about, to the world (actual or possible) it has been assigned to. Moreover, this asymmetry is also active on another layer, that of communicative dynamism (topic-focus articulation, functional sentence perspective). Within the speech, participants in the conversation / communication exchange need to move from what
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteSemantics - Advances in Theories and Mathematical Models
EditorMuhammad Tanvir Afzal
Numero di pagine36
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2012


  • argument
  • illocutionary force
  • predicate
  • queries
  • questions
  • requests
  • sentence


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