Eleni Miltsakaki's work

A Study on Greek Questions Conveying Disagreement


(Presented at PRAGMA '99, Tel-Aviv)

Speech Act theories are not new to pragmatics. However, in the past few years very little progress has been made with respect to the typology of speech acts. In this paper we define a new type of speech act, which we call disagreement. Based on naturally occurring data drawn from on line newsgroups, we go on to show that native speakers of Modern Greek implicate disagreement through the means of questions. For clarity, consider the following example from English:

(1) Why do you think this is a good movie?

Given the right intonation, the question in (1) can easily be interpreted as:

(2) Unlike you, I don't think this is a good movie.

Unlike the English example, the Greek data used comprise only discussions in written form. The required inferences do not rely on intonation, which complexifies the task of calculating the implicature. We are addressing the problem of identifying the processes involved in interpreting questions as desagreeing assertions. Following Searle (1975), we offer a model which derives the intended implicature algorithmically. The model gives a principled account of the data. We proceed as follows:

a)For rhetorical questions, we assume Ilie's (1994) definition.

b)We define disagreement a la Searle (1965, 1975), by giving the necessary and sufficient conditions for an act of disagreeing.

c)We go on to give a step by step derivation of the intended implicature (crucially depending on speech act definitions, Gricean principles and inferencing mechanisms). Note that calculating indirect disagreement of the type described (questions) is a two step inferencing process. First questions need to be interpreted as assertions and then assertions are interpreted as disagreement.

d)We demonstrate the step by step derivation of both processes with examples from the data.


Ilie, C.1994. What else can I tell you? ALMQVIST &WIKSELL INTERNATIONAL.

Searle, J.R. 1965. "What is a Speech Act?" In Philosophy in America, edited by M. Black. NY:Allen & Unwin. Reprinted in Searle, J. ed. 1971. The Philosophy of language. London: Oxford University Press.

Searle, J.R. 1975."Indirect Speech Acts." In Syntax and Semantics, vol. 3 edited by Cole and J.L. Morgan. New York: Academic Press.

Key words: discourse, speech acts, disagreement, intelligent agents, pragmatics