Talk: "Imperative Answers to Questions Under Discussion"

June 24, 2012
Texas Linguistics Society 13, Austin, TX

Draft paper — feedback welcome!

Synopsis
This work proposes a new definition of when commands are relevant in discourse, and explains how they interact with Questions Under Discussion (QUDs). Much recent work on the semantics of imperatives (e.g. Portner 2004, 2007; Kaufmann 2011) seeks to explain when imperatives can be felicitously uttered. At the same time, formal work on discourse (Roberts 2004; Roberts et al. 2009; Simons et al. 2011) defines relevance for assertions and questions (1–2), but not for commands.

(1) An assertion is relevant if it contextually entails a partial or complete answer to the QUD.
(2) A question is relevant if it has an answer which contextually entails a partial or complete answer to the QUD.

I extend this paradigm of relevance with a corresponding definition for commands (3). Doing so not only allows commands issued with imperatives to be evaluated against QUDs, but lets relevance be generalized across the three major clause types. 

(3) A command is relevant if what it prefers contextually entails a partial or complete answer to the QUD.