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Conference Papers Year : 2021

Negative bias in questions in TED talks


This paper explores the meaning of really polar questions and wh-the hell questions in TED talks as compared with MICASE. The meaning of questions is generally defined in relation to their answers. Questions are assumed to request information in conversation exchange (Sadock and Zwicky 1985). An answer is supposed to fill an epistemic gap. The paper investigates the role of questions in a discourse context where no information can be obtained from the addressee. The nature of responses is analysed. Epistemic really in a positive polar question triggers an epistemic bias of opposite polarity. As a verum operator, really adds the negative implicature that the speaker expected the negative answer to be true. The speaker "asks for conclusive evidence for p" (Romero and Han 2004), so as to get a confirmation of their original belief. This confirmation cannot be obtained in TED talks. We show that really questions serve to dispel commonly held beliefs by allowing the speaker to introduce conclusive evidence for not-p in the subsequent discourse and to steer the common ground to a new knowledge state. This discursive function of really polar questions is salient in TED talks as opposed to MICASE. In content questions, the the hell phrase also conveys a negative implicature, i.e. "the speaker's negative attitude toward the content of the question" (den Dikken and Giannakidou 2002). The hell conveys two types of expressivity (Celle, Jugnet, and Lansari 2021) that derive from intensification. Emotional expressivity correlates with the speaker's attitude to p, which may rank high either along a scale of ignorance or incongruity. Iconic expressivity enacts emotion when a scale of performativity is involved. It is mostly associated with storytelling sequences inserted in the narrative. Both types of expressivity are attested in TED talks. In sum, really questions and wh-the hell questions contribute to achieving joint attention (Battich & Geurts (2020) in the knowledge-sharing process based by arousing the addressee's interest. The disconfirmation of prior expectations is intended to create an anticipation on the part of the addressee.


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Dates and versions

hal-03452674 , version 1 (27-11-2021)



Agnès Celle, Loïc Liégeois. Negative bias in questions in TED talks. Languaging Diversity 2021, "The Linguistic Construction of Emotional Challenges in a Changing Society”, Caliendo Giuditta; Lemmens Maarten; Lesuisse Mégane, Oct 2021, Lille, France., ⟨10.48448/jkre-p757⟩. ⟨hal-03452674⟩
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