Epistemic biases in Polar Questions. The case of Italian “mica”

Ilaria Frana

7 Nov, 2pm-3:30pm, LH 201

(Joint work with Kyle Rawlins, Johns Hopkins University.)

In this work, we focus on epistemic biases induced by the Italian particle mica in negative polar questions. Simple negative polar questions in Italian, just like their English counterparts, convey a positive epistemic bias on the part of the speaker, i.e. by asking a negative polar question (Non fumi?/Don’t you smoke?) the speaker indicates that (s)he previously expected the positive answer to the question to be true. Negative polar questions with mica (Non fumi mica?), on the other hand, reverse the polarity of the bias, thus conveying that the speaker previously expected the negative answer to the question to be true. Following the literature on polar questions, we propose that mica is an N-word that introduces an epistemic conversational operator (along the lines of Romero and Han (2003)’s VERUM operator). The different epistemic biases are then derived on the basis of the relative scope of negation and VERUM operator(s), and pragmatic (gricean) reasoning.