Kyle Rawlins

Associate Professor, Cognitive Science Department


My current major research focus is the syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of questions and ways of responding to them, in both root and embedded positions.

A central focus of my research is ways of responding that are not answers, questions that can be used as responses, and other cases that break the “question-answer” paradigm. One aspect of this project began as joint work with James Isaacs, on conditional questions — their syntax, semantics, and compositional structure.

If Joanna comes to the party, will Alfonso be mad?
If Alfonso doesn’t go, who will drive?

More recently I have been interested in questions involving “what if”, “what about”, “even if”, etc. Aside from intrinsically interesting issues about the analyses of these various constructions, many of these can be used as responses in complex discourse structures that question an interlocutor’s assumptions, suggesting that they may have failed to consider some possibility:

A: Alfonso is going to the party.
B: Even if Joanna is there?

Related papers and handouts (see also “enhanced ignorance questions”, on the unconditionals and free choice page):

  • (2011) DGfS Context workshop, “Even questions and context. [slides]
  • (2010) WCCFL 28, “What if?”. [handout]
  • (2010) SALT 20, “Conversational backoff”. [SALT paper, handout]
  • (2008) Isaacs and Rawlins, “Conditional questions”, Journal of Semantics (special volume on Language Under Uncertainty). [Paper with our formatting]
  • (2005/2008) Isaacs and Rawlins, “Speech acts under “if”-clauses”, proceedings of CLS 41.

In recent work I have been investigating questions and question-like constructions in embedded positions. My perspective is that one cannot understand root questions without understanding embedded questions, and vice versa. Part of this work has been joint work with Ilaria Frana on concealed questions, and a recently developing part is work on the licensing of embedded questions by compositionally complex attitude predicates involving prepositions, especially “about”.

  • (2013) About ‘about’, proceedings of SALT 23.
  • (2011) UMD colloquium, “Heim’s ambiguity and the lexical content of attitude predicates”. [slides]
  • (2011) Frana and Rawlins, “Unconditional concealed Questions and Heim’s
    Ambiguity”, Proceedings of SALT 21. [paper]

I have a long-standing interest in alternative and polar questions. On the semantics side, this has lately involved joint work with MarĂ­a Biezma. We argue that disjunction in alternative questions is Hamblin disjunction, and that polar questions have a semantics more similar to declaratives than is standardly supposed. These two assumptions together explain a wide range of data.

On the syntax side, an ongoing joint project with Ruth Kramer investigates the syntax of response particles such as “yes” and “no”. We argue that such particles carry polarity features that interact with the polarity system of the clause they appear in, leading to complex and intricate behavior both in English and cross-linguistically. When appearing without an associated clause, they support ellipsis similar to the kind seen in fragment answers to constituent questions; this type of ellipsis turns out to be the same kind as ellipsis licensed by a high Sigma head (English “so” or “not”), across a range of languages.

  • (2012) Biezma and Rawlins, “Responding to alternative and polar questions”, Linguistics and Philosophy. [paper]
  • (2012) Kramer and Rawlins, invited talk at a workshop on polarity particles, University of Newcastle. [slides]
  • (2012) Biezma and Rawlins, “Or what?”, talk at DGfS workshop on Questions Under Discussion. [slides]
  • (2010) Kramer and Rawlins, talk at a workshop on polarity particles at UCSC. [handout]
  • (2009) Kramer and Rawlins, Proceedings of NELS 39. [paper].