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This paper develops an argument that discourse considerations are crucial in the semantics of questions by looking at the case of English “or what” questions. We argue that “what” in these questions is a discourse pronoun anaphoric with the ‘Question Under Discussion’, and show that this account explains the range of variation in how “or what” questions are interpreted in context, compared to other question types. This accounts for the fact that OWQs can be used as plain information seeking questions, as rhetorical questions, and also as questions that express insistence about receiving an immediate answer. Along the way we present empirical arguments that “or what” questions do not involve sluicing, though they can best be compared to the phenomenon of antecedent-less ‘pseudo-sluicing’.
Articles appearing in Semantics and Pragmatics are published under an author agreement with the Linguistic Society of America and are made available to readers under a Creative Commons Attribution License.