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A Study of English Rhetorical Questions under the Prototype Theory of Categorization

Author: ChenHongBo
Tutor: MaYanHong
School: Liaoning University
Course: Foreign Linguistics and Applied Linguistics
Keywords: rhetorical questions the Prototype Theory of Categorization the syntactic prototypical category the semantic prototypical category the pragmatic prototypical category
CLC: H314.3
Type: Master's thesis
Year: 2011
Downloads: 97
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Abstract


Rhetorical questions, which are widely used, are a special use of questions. Grammarians pay attention to their syntactic and semantic characteristics; pragmaticians are more interested in the study of various contextual factors. While the study of rhetorical questions is quite fruitful and extensive, it is restricted to the grammatical and pragmatic perspectives, and the cognitive factor has been ignored. At the same time, it is mainly about the description of individual written data, and the proportion of the oral data based on the daily conversations is relatively small. Thus a consistent and systematic analysis of rhetorical questions is highly needed.This study, the cognitive research of rhetorical questions under the Prototype Theory of Categorization, employing some colloquial data in daily communication, aims to provide a systematic analysis of rhetorical questions. Categorization, which is very important to human kind, refers to the mental process of classification. The Prototype Theory of Categorization claims that prototypical categories cannot be defined by means of a single set of necessary and sufficient attributes; prototypical categories exhibit a family resemblance structure, or more generally, their semantic structure takes the form of a radial set of clustered and overlapping meanings; prototypical categories exhibit degrees of category membership; not every member is equally representative for a category; prototypical categories are blurred at the edges.This thesis consists of three parts. The first part is the introduction, which is mainly about the perspective, object and the significance of the thesis. The author claims that a cognitive analysis of rhetorical questions under the Prototype Theory of Categorization can perfect the analyzing system of rhetorical questions.The second part is composed of five chapters.The first and second chapters present a literature review and a theoretical frame. A review of the literature shows that most of the previous studies are description of the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic features of rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions, as an important part in language, are the result of human cognition. Thus they can be analyzed from the cognitive perspective. In the opinion of the author, rhetorical questions fall into a prototypical category of syntax, a prototypical category of semantics and a prototypical category of pragmatics. A prototypical category of syntax is a category of different semantic meanings and pragmatic functions expressed by the same syntactic constructions; a prototypical category of semantics is a category of different syntactic constructions and pragmatic functions expressing the same semantic meaning; a prototypical category of pragmatics is a category of different syntactic constructions performing the same pragmatic function.In the third chapter, employing the Prototype Theory of Categorization and the suggestion that a prototypical category of syntax is a category of different semantic meanings and pragmatic functions expressed by the same syntactic constructions as criteria, the author argues that rhetorical questions and genuine questions belong to the same syntactic prototypical category of QUESTION, since they share syntactic similarities but differ on semantic and pragmatic levels. They are different in deep semantic meaning structures, in occurring contexts, and in answer types. In syntactic prototypical category of QUESTION, genuine questions share the most attributes with other members, and act as prototypical members, while rhetorical question share only some attributes with genuine questions and tag questions, which suggest that rhetorical questions are only non-prototypical members. As non-prototypical members, rhetorical questions have their own syntactic features which are not possessed by other members. The author goes further to discuss the special syntactic features of rhetorical questions: some useful tools can be used to mark the distinction between genuine questions and rhetorical questions; rhetorical questions can license strong NPIs; another special syntactic feature of rhetorical questions is that rhetorical wh-questions and rhetorical yes-no questions can be interchanged because the function of rhetorical questions is to“give information”, and it is not important how the information is given.The fourth chapter is devoted to the study of the semantic prototypical category of rhetorical questions. As the hypothesis that a prototypical category of semantics is a category of different syntactic constructions and pragmatic functions expressing the same semantic meaning suggests, the author claims that rhetorical questions and negation belong to the same semantic prototypical category of NEGATION in that they are semantically similar but syntactically and pragmatically different. Then the author takes a further step to discuss the status of rhetorical questions in the semantic prototypical category. First, the author discusses the features of unreal conditional sentences and finds that by the criteria above, unreal conditional sentences also belong to the same semantic prototypical category. Second, the main attributes of the three members are explored to make a comparison in order to find out the status of rhetorical questions in the semantic prototypical category. The author concludes that negation shares the most attributes with rhetorical questions and unreal conditional questions, while rhetorical questions share only some features with negation and unreal conditional sentences. Such conclusion suggests that rhetorical questions serve as non-prototypical members in the semantic prototypical category. In the last part of this chapter, the special semantic feature of rhetorical questions as non-prototypical members is described. The author argues that the meaning of rhetorical questions consists of explicit part which is the literal meaning of rhetorical questions and the implicit part, i.e. the conversational implicature, which has dual properties of non-convention and convention.The fifth chapter is about the pragmatic prototypical categories of rhetorical questions. The author argues that the pragmatic function of rhetorical questions is based on the illocutionary force. If different syntactic structures represent the same illocutionary force, they belong to the same pragmatic prototypical category. As a special type of structure, rhetorical questions can perform indirect acts of assertive and directive. Thus they fall into the same pragmatic prototypical categories with declaratives and imperatives. That is, rhetorical questions belong to the pragmatic prototypical categories of ASSERTIVE and DIRECTIVE. Then the status of rhetorical questions in these prototypical categories is analyzed. By analyzing the pragmatic features of direct and indirect assertives and directives, the author claims that they are non-prototypical members. At last, the special pragmatic feature of rhetorical questions as non-prototypical members is introduced. The most distinctive feature of rhetorical questions is their indirectness, and people often use them for the following two reasons: first, a rhetorical question can perform face-threatening acts as well as face-saving acts; second, the social status of the speaker and hearer should be taken into consideration when using rhetorical questions in that a proper use of rhetorical questions can make our life go smoothly while an improper use of rhetorical questions can damage the communication. The last part is the conclusion. Major findings, limitations of this study, and suggestions for the future researches are presented in this part. This study has both the theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, the cognitive analysis of rhetorical questions under the Prototype Theory of Categorization is the product of the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic analyses of rhetorical questions. This method of analyzing may be beneficial to the future studies on rhetorical questions both in English and Chinese. On the practical level, an analysis of the prototypical categories of rhetorical questions, especially the pragmatic categories of rhetorical questions helps to avoid the performance of face-threatening acts and facilitates daily communication.

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CLC: > Language, writing > FOREIGN > English > Grammar > Syntax
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