Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Does This Blog Make Me Look Fat?

A question is a request for information, but, of course, we use sentences that sound like questions for all sorts of other things. In my Critical Thinking class last week we started thinking critically about the question, "Do these pants make my butt look big?" In light of the coming of Valentine's Day, it seems worth thinking about a few days early.

It seems that there are four possible things this sentence could be doing:

(1) It is an honest, authentic request for information. The person asking really wants to know if the pants do give what is certainly the illusion of his/her backside being larger than it is.

(2) It is a leading question, that is it is a question asks what it seems to be asking, but does it in a way that guides the listener to what the speaker takes the right answer to be. When asked if this makes me look fat, there is, of course, one and only one correct answer for those of us who do not have comfortable couches.

(3) It is what Hanno terms "a pointer," that is, one sentence that points to another that it really is expressing. In this case, the question "Do these pants make my butt look big?" points to another question, "Do you think I'm attractive?" and it is this second question that is really getting asked. H. P. Grice has an intricate account of how we figure out, seemingly without thinking, what sentences point to others in conversational contexts and if you haven't yet figured out what this points to, try answering it wrong one time...

(4) It is a disguised command. Consider the question, "You're not wearing that, are you?" May look like a question, may sound like a question, but it ain't a question. That utterance means "Go change now. I will not be seen in public with someone wearing that."

Which one is it or is it something else altogether?