Really: Ambiguity and question bias


  • Cory Bill
  • Todor Koev



We discuss two empirical puzzles about English really: (i) really is ambiguous between an intensifier use akin to very (cf. Zelda is really tall) and a conversational use that expresses definite certainty (cf. Zelda REALLY is tall); (ii) polar questions with conversational really convey a negative speaker bias towards the question prejacent (cf. Is Kai REALLY from Hawaii? ? The speaker doubts that Kai is from Hawaii). We propose a single lexical entry according to which really combines with a gradable property P and states that the degree to which P applies meets all relevant standards. The ambiguity hinges on whether P ranges over degrees of individual properties (as in the case of intensifier really) or degrees of commitment (as in the case of conversational really). In addition, we propose to derive the question bias associated with conversational really from its obligatory contrastive focus marking, a feature that it shares with other polar elements that give rise to a similar effect.




How to Cite

Bill, C., & Koev, T. (2022). Really: Ambiguity and question bias. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 26, 130–148.

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