The syntax and semantics of non-standard wh-constructions in Korean (Dissertation)
Okgi Kim
August 2022

The following is an investigation of the syntax and semantics of two types of non-standard wh-construction in Korean: one concerns so-called why-like what-interrogatives, where what-questions are construed as why-questions asking for cause/reason/purpose, and the other concerns what-exclamatives, which are used to express a speaker’s emotive attitude toward a certain state of affairs or degree. Both of these wh constructions are viewed as nonstandard in the sense that they behave differently from standard what-questions. In this dissertation, I aim to provide a syntactically and semantically precise characterization of the two non-standard wh-constructions in Korean. Korean why-like what-interrogatives, namely mwe-l interrogatives, raise many theoretical questions of their own. Of particular interest and importance, of course, is the question of how what-questions can be interpreted as causal/reason/purpose questions without the help of a wh-adjunct like why. As the first attempt to address the challenging question within a compositional semantic framework, I propose to analyze Korean why-like what-questions as ‘ordinary what’-questions including a cause-operator that denotes a function taking two propositions (construed as sets of events) and returning true iff an event of propositional type p (introduced by what) is the cause of the definite event of propositional type q (introduced by the rest of the clause). On such a view, Korean why-like what-questions are interpreted as asking about what proposition p is such that an event of propositional type p is the cause of the salient event in question. The proposed analysis enables us to account for both regular and idiosyncratic properties of Korean why-like what-questions without the assumption that what behaves like a wh-adjunct corresponding to why. Another major contribution of this dissertation is to demonstrate, to my knowledge for the first time, the existence of what-exclamatives in Korean and to provide a thorough description and analysis of them. I argue that the descriptive content of Korean what-exclamatives, namely mwe-l-{ku/i}lehkey-exclamatives, denotes a maximal degree (d) derived via a maximality operator {ku/i}lehkey ‘so’, a function from a set of degrees to a unique maximal degree in the set. In terms of illocutionary speech acts, I propose that Korean what-exclamatives are interpreted as assertions rather than expressives. To capture this assertive speech act, I argue that the maximal degree contributed by the wh-clause is fed to an assertive force operator, Excl-Op, which is a function of the form d > s, where s refers to a contextually provided standard established by the speaker’s expectation; this assertive proposition entails a violation of the speaker’s expectation, which in turn naturally gives rise to a sense of surprise or other relevant emotions of the speaker. Given that the speaker evaluates the assertive proposition (i.e., d > s) as positive or negative depending on the context, the assertive content is assumed to be used as input to an evaluative operator Eval-Op, a function from propositions to evaluative attitudes on the part of the speaker. This study allows us to improve our understanding of cross-linguistic variation in wh-exclamatives and to fill in a gap in the description of Korean exclamatives.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006743
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
keywords: why-like what questions, what-exclamatives, korean, semantics, syntax
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