Ignorance and competence implicatures in central Sicilian polar questions



In this paper we examine the distribution and functions of two optional particles found in polar questions in central Sicilian: chi and cusà. The import of these particles can best be understood if their distribution in various types of ‘non-canonical’ questions is analysed, based on the typology outlined in Farkas (2020). In Farkas’s account, canonical questions are characterized by the default assumptions of speaker ignorance and addressee competence about the question’s propositional content, while non-canonical questions lack at least one of these assumptions. This characterization of (non)-canonical questions in terms of speaker ignorance and addressee competence allows us to capture the distribution of the two particles, which strengthen these assumptions to conventional implicatures. In particular, we show that chi is conventionally associated with addressee competence, while cusà is conventionally associated with speaker ignorance. We frame this analysis in a version of the inquisitive semantics model, according to which sentence types are characterized by two parameters: the informativeness of the propositional content relative to the participants’ information state, and its inquisitiveness, that is, its potential to raise an issue. This perspective allows is to develop a formal explicit analysis of the particles’ meaning, which can in turn be successfully extended to capture their use beyond polar questions.


discourse particles, polar questions, speaker ignorance, addressee competence, conventional implicatures, Sicilian.


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