Prospectus defense | Doubling down on exclusivity: issues on the syntax-semantics interface

Ka Fai Yip
Event time: 
Monday, October 9, 2023 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Dow Hall room 201 (LingSem) See map
Event description: 

Quantifier doubling is a ubiquitous phenomenon in natural languages that raises important issues for the syntax-semantics interface. Quantifier doubling refers to cases where two quantificational expressions occur in a sentence, but apparently only one is interpreted as logical quantification. For instance, in languages like Cantonese, Dutch, German, Mandarin, and Vietnamese, among others, “John only bought lamb only” may mean ‘John only bought lamb.’ A form-meaning mismatch is found, which raises an issue on how morphosyntax is mapped onto semantics. More generally, there is an intuitive sense that quantifier doubling is “redundant”: if one suffices, why two?

This prospectus motivates a novel view on the mapping between morphosyntax and semantics to provide a principled explanation for quantifier doubling, with a special focus on the doubling of exclusive focus particles. We hypothesize that quantifier doubling is a parametric strategy for languages to realize complex meaning structures. Specifically, quantifier doubling is a syntactic manifestation (“syntacticization”) of quantification structures that are otherwise lexicalized as a whole in languages without doubling. We argue that the Cantonese case of exclusive doubling involves mapping the scalar exclusive meaning onto two syntactically linked exclusive focus particles, one of which, the adverbial zinghai ‘only’, is the exclusive operator on the at-issue semantic dimension, and the other, the sentence-final particle zaa3 ‘only’, encodes a scalar reading on the not-at-issue dimension. These two meaning pieces are realized together on one lexical item in non-doubling languages, such as the scalar use of English only in they are only Master students. We also discuss the possibility of extending this scalar proposal to other doubling languages. Under this conception, there is no true sense of “doubling”: the doubled particles indeed carry distinct (yet related) meanings, and quantifier doubling is not “redundant”. 

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