French reason-'comment' (how) questions: a view from prosody

TitleFrench reason-'comment' (how) questions: a view from prosody
Publication TypeChapitre d'ouvrage
Année de publicationSous presse
Book TitleFunctional categories and expressive meaning
PublisherOxford University Press
CityOxford, UK

This paper discusses some semantic/pragmatic aspects of French questions starting with comment ’how’ and having an interpretation of reason (similar to  reason ’why’), and investigates if and how these properties are reflected by prosody. With reason-comment questions, the speaker doubts that the proposition characterizing the event described in the question can be true, and asks the hearer to help her to revise her expectations about it, by giving her some reasons that make the existence of the event conceivable. The speaker’s doubt is often accompanied by additional emotions, such as indignation, exasperation, etc. In order to analyse the prosody of these questions, we conducted a production experiment comparing the reason and the manner reading of comment-questions. Results confirmed that prosodic cues allow distinguishing the two interpretations. In utterances with reason reading, the expression of questioning force is important, though accompanied by expressions of expectation disconfirmation and surprise.