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What Can I Say? Implications and Communicative Functions of Rhetorical “WH” Questions in Classical Biblical Hebrew Prose1

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AbstractThe rhetorical question is a sentence whose meaning is that of a question, but which is used to indirectly express an assertion. This paper examines content (“WH”) rhetorical questions in classical biblical prose, classifying them according to implications and communicative goals. Rhetorical questions have one of three types of implications: negative, specific, and extreme scalar implications. The content rhetorical question is found to be a versatile conversational device in the Bible, serving a variety of distinct communicative functions which operate on multiple levels. It is directly or indirectly connected to persuasion in most of its uses. The rhetorical question is in essence an intensifier, deriving its force on the higher-level of function from the implication of obviousness. In some cases, however, the choice of a persuasive form of communication rather than a more direct strategy has the effect of mitigation on the superordinate function level.

Affiliations: 1: Bar Ilan


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