Questions and their responses in Tzeltal

Brown, P. (2010). Questions and their responses in Tzeltal. Journal of Pragmatics, 42, 2627-2648. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2010.04.003.
This paper reports the results of a study of Tzeltal questions and their responses, based on a collection of 419 question/response sequences drawn from video recordings of ‘maximally casual’ naturally occurring face-to-face interactions in a Tzeltal (Mayan) community. I describe the lexical and grammatical resources for formulating content and polar questions in Tzeltal, the different kinds of social actions that questions can be used to perform and their relative frequency in the data, and the characteristic properties of responses to questions. This is part of a large-scale comparative study of questions in 10 different languages, and we find that Tzeltal is like most others in making much more use of polar than of content questions, and in the strong tendency for confirming answers to polar questions. Tzeltal is however unusual in three respects: in the comparatively minimal use of gaze to select next speaker, in the frequency with which answers take the form of repeats, and in the complete absence of visible-only responses (e.g., nods or head-shakes). There are also some language-specific properties of question–answer sequences that reveal cultural shaping of sequencing in conversation.
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