Reversed polarity rhetorical questions in Estonian everyday interaction


The article gives an overiew of reversed polarity rhetorical questions (RPQ-s) in Estonian everyday interaction. RPQ-s are rhetorical questions that convey strong reversed polarity assertions. The data for this article comes from the Corpus of Spoken Estonian of the University of Tartu. A total of 42 RPQ-s from different everyday conversations were analysed using the methodology of interactional linguistics and conversation analysis.
The article focuses on the grammatical construction, sequential position and interactional purposes of the RPQ-s. The analysis shows that the grammatical construction of RPQ-s does not differ from that of information asking questions. Therefore some RPQ-s can be interpreted as rhetorical only in a wider conversational context.
In the data analysed there occurred three different possibilities of responding to RPQ-s: (1) the recipients respond with a (dis)approval of the statement expressed in the question; (2) the recipients respond with a straight answer, and in some cases (3) RPQ-s get no response. Whether RPQ-s receive an answer or not, they can be sequentially divided into questions that are part of an adjacency pair (question – answer; statement – (dis)approval) and questions that are not.
The main function of these questions is to convey an assertion or a statement that can have an evaluative connotation. Most RPQ-s occur in positions where there is a contradiction in the interactants’ opinions. RPQ-s may be argumentative, justifying, defensive, sarcastic or accusatory. The recipient of the question can be challenged by the question. Accepting the challenge the recipient takes a defensive position for her/his opinion.