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Title: The syntax of yes-no questions and answers in Thai
Authors: Yaisomanang, Somphob
Keywords: Tai-Kadai Languages
Thai Language
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis shows a close syntactic relation between yes-no questions (YNQs) and answers (also called yes-no replies, YNRs) in Thai, based on the theory of questions and answers in Holmberg (2010, to appear). To show this correspondence, the semantics and syntax of YNQ particles in Thai are analysed. It is assumed that every YNQ particle in Thai necessarily includes either overt or covert rŭu ‘Q/ or’, a disjunctive particle. As part of a question particle, rŭu ‘Q/ or’ is argued to have the features [Alt(ernative)] and [uFoc]. The [Alt] feature restricts rŭu ‘Q/ or’ to conjoining (or ‘disjoining’) two polarity phrases (PolPs) with identical content but opposite polarity, affirmative or negative. The Pol head of PolP can only merge with verbal categories; therefore, rŭu ‘Q/ or’ conjoins verbal categories only. The [uFoc] feature makes rŭu ‘Q/ or’ the question focus, distinguishing it from a declarative disjunctive sentence with rŭu ‘or’. With these features, YNQs in Thai are seen as disjunctive constructions where rŭu ‘Q/ or’ conjoins two PolPs to form a question of which the second conjunct is deleted at PF. Based on the syntax of the question they mark, YNQ particles are classified into two types. However, particles in both types are derived by the incorporation of the Pol head (and an Adv in certain cases) with the conjunction rŭu ‘Q/ or’, followed by PolP-ellipsis. YNRs in Thai take many different forms and are categorised into primary and secondary answers. Primary YNRs are based on a verb or verb complex from the YNQ (Type-1 questions) or on the question particle itself (Type-2 questions). Secondary YNRs are made up of externally merged materials, typically a particle or particle complex. Following the theory of questions and answers in Holmberg (2010, to appear), these YNRs are assumed to be the carriers of the focused polarity. YNQs have, as an essential component, a variable, which is the polarity, unvalued in the question, and restricted to two possible values: affirmative or negative. This variable is focused in the question. Direct questions ask the addressee to provide a value for this focused, unvalued polarity such that it yields a true proposition. Even minimal YNRs consisting of just one word are full sentential expressions, with an IP which is identical to that of the question, except for the value of the polarity variable, and which is therefore typically not spelled out. To derive primary YNRs to Type-1 questions, the Pol head at Spec, FocP copies the values of the Pol head of one PolP conjunct. This includes a copy of the [V] feature inherited from the verbal complement of the Pol head. The consequence is the elimination of the other conjunct, followed by the spell-out of the copied Pol head at Spec, FocP and deletion of the IP. All that is spelled out, therefore, is a verb or verbal complex ultimately derived from the question, or a negated verb/ verbal complex. This derivation is also applicable to Type-2 questions with the exception that the copied Pol head derives from the question particle itself. Regarding the secondary YNRs, they do not differentiate between two types since they derive from external materials. They are derived by merging a Pol head with an inherent polarity value at Spec, FocP. It can be spelled out as, for example, an honorific particle, an exclamation, a negative word or a polarity particle.
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