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Between prosody and grammar: the case of rhetorical questions

Patrizia Sorianello

Abstract


This study examines the prosodic structure of Italian rhetorical questions (RQs). Unlike the ordinary questions, RQs are not realized for achieving information and do not require an explicit answer. RQs are hybrid utterances, since they have the surface structure of a question, but the pragmatic meaning of a statement.

As far as prosody is concerned, RQs have received little attention so far, especially with reference to Italian language. This study presents an acoustic analysis of a sample of identical questions with literary and rhetorical meaning. The research aims to verify whether RQs have an own prosodic identity in comparison with yes/no or wh- seeking-information questions. The experimental results provide an unclear framework. RQs and ordinary questions are not always melodically different, although RQs have more frequently a final falling contour. We believe that the high number of discursive functions performed by RQs plays a crucial role in the realization of  intonation contours.


Keywords


rhetorical questions; intonation; pragmatic functions

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