Rashad Ullah presents at CLS

May 4, 2016

Yale lingusitics graduate student Rashad Ullah gave a presentation at the annual conference of the Chicago Linguistic Society (CLS 52). His talk, based on his dissertation work, was titled “Polarity, free choice, and referential vaguenesss: evidence from Bengali.” An abstract appears below (from the conference booklet).

This paper examines a class of indefinite pronouns in Bengali (k-words) with two aims — first to bring in empirical, descriptive semantic data not previously examined, and secondly to motivate a two-dimensional analysis of polarity-sensitivity that depends both on structural licensing and pragmatic preconditions, which in turn are sensitive to both a domain of alternatives and the extent to which that domain is exhaustified. In Bengali, a k-word like kono ‘some/any’ is morphologically composed of an interrogative (kon) along with the particle -o (Chatterji 1926; Thompson 2010). The k-word — with Negative Polarity (NPI) and Free Choice (FCI) readings — has been analysed using alternatives (Ramchand 1997) similar to indeterminates in Japanese (Kratzer & Shimoyama 2002). In previous work (Ullah 2005) I argue that Bengali k-words divide into emphatics and non-emphatics and that emphatics are subject to licensing in anti-veridical contexts (cf. Giannakidou 1997, 1998). In this paper I identify an intonational diagnostic that teases apart emphatics from non-emphatics and then show that non-emphatics obtain a referentially vague (RV) reading of the type called “epistemic indefinites” e.g. algún in Spanish (Alonso-Ovalle 2006). Next, examining interpretations in the scope of modals, I show that non-emphatic k-words systematically contrast with, on one side, non-polarity- sensitive indefinites and, on the other side, FCIs. Giannakidou & Quer (2013) argue that certain FCI and RV indefinites in Spanish, Catalan, and Greek are best explained as requiring preconditions that trigger individual-alternatives but differ critically in that FC requires exhaustification of the domain while the RV requires only partial exhaustification. My paper argues that Giannakidou & Quer-type analysis better explains the Bengali k-words in all three readings — NPI, FCI, and RV. This approach supports converging work that treats polarity not as a monolithic class but as a cluster of phenomena emerging from the mix of grammar, semantics, and pragmatics. 

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