The Acquisition of Rhetorical Questions in German-Italian bilingual children

Thursday, May 5, 2022 - 14:30 to 16:30
Seminario di Theodoros Marinis (University of Konstanz/Reading)

Quando: Giovedì 5 Maggio 2022, ore 14.30 - 16.15
Dove: Santa Chiara Lab (Auditorium), Via Val di Montone, 1, Siena


"The Acquisition of Rhetorical Questions in German-Italian bilingual children"


Seminario di Theodoros Marinis. University of Konstanz/Reading


Rhetorical questions (RQs) are syntactically interrogatives with the pragmatic function of an assertion that is used to signal the speaker’s attitude, as illustrated in (1) below.


(1) Who wants to pay taxes?


In example (1) world knowledge provides the cue that this is not an information seeking question (ISQ). World knowledge is not the only cue that disambiguates RQs from ISQs. In German, RQs and ISQs can be distinguished through lexical-syntactic cues, such as discourse particles (DiPs; Bayer & Struckmeier, 2017; Biezma & Rawlins, 2017) and through phonetic (e.g., duration, voice quality) and phonological (e.g., pitch accents, boundary tones) cues (Braun et al., 2019). Example (2) illustrates a question that can be interpreted as ISQ or RQ. Example (3) illustrates that the use of the DiPs ‘denn schon’ leads to a RQ interpretation.


(2) Wer mag Bananen? - RQ or ISQ interpretation

Who likes bananas?

(3) Wer mag denn schon Bananen? - RQ interpretation

Who likes DiP DiP bananas?


To date there is very limited research on how children acquire RQs and the cues that contribute to an ISQ or a RQ interpretation. In this talk I will present results from our project ‘Non-Canonical Questions in Early and Late Bilingual Language Acquisition’ that investigates how monolingual and bilingual children and adults acquire RQs in German and Italian. The presentation will focus on German-Italian early bilingual children growing up in Germany and will address what cues they use when they interpret German and Italian questions. Are they able to use lexical-syntactic, phonetic and phonological cues equally well? Are there additive factors when we combine these cues? Are there differences between their dominant language, German, and their non-dominant language, Italian, and are there effects of language input?



  • Bayer, J., & Struckmeier, V. 2017. The status quo of research on discourse particles in syntax and semantics. In J. Bayer & V. Struckmeier (Eds.), Discourse particles: Formal approaches to their syntax and semantics (Linguistische Arbeiten 564) (pp. 1-14): de Gruyter.
  • Biezma, M., & Rawlins, K. 2017. Rhetorical questions: Severing asking from questioning. Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory, 27, 302-322.
  • Braun, B., Dehé, N., Neitsch, J., Wochner, D., & Zahner, K. 2019. The prosody of rhetorical and information-seeking questions in German. Language and Speech, 62(4), 779-807.