Echoes and Disbelief

Linguistics 322

An echo sentence is a sentence that repeats a previous sentence usually denoting disbelief, incredulity, or unexpected surprise. These occur in the form of dialogues:

(1)     A:     I just bought a new Aston-Martin.

         B:     You bought a what?

B's response is that he either doesn't believe A, or finds it incredulous that he would buy an Aston Martin, or it could be that he was totally surprised. B's response is an echo. It repeats A's statement, replacing the word or phrase in question with a Wh-word. The Wh-word is a replacement for the focal word which is Aston-Martin in (1). Perhaps B thought someone was going to buy an Aston-Martin, but he wasn't expecting the person to be A. B might reply:

(2)     Who just bought a new Aston-Martin?

Note that the intonation contour marking echoes and disbelief statements must be on the Wh-word.

The kind of response can be stated without a Wh-word replacement. The word in question may be repeated with the intonation contour on the questioned word. We mark this with the italic font here:

(3)     You bought a new Aston-Martin?

Or, perhaps, B thought he was going to buy an old one:

(4)     You bought a new Aston-Martin?

Or he wasn't expecting A to buy it:

(5)     You bought a new Aston-Martin?

Disbelief marked forms do not always occur in echo constructions. John could emerge into the front room wearing a ludicrous tie, and Mary could exclaim:

(6)     You're wearing that to the party?

Note that even though (6) is a question, the auxiliary verb is not raised to C. The feature Q remains weak in this construction (questions).


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