Michael Wagner of McGill University will give a colloquium talk titled “Additivity and the syntax of ‘even'” in the Linguistics department this Friday, 17 April at 3:30pm in ILC N400. All are welcome. Abstract follows.
Additivity and the syntax of ‘even’
Beaver & Clark (2003, 2010) observe that certain focus operators such as ‘only’ and ‘even’ differ in various ways from focus sensitive operators such as ‘always’. This talk presents analysis that derives at least some of these differences from a difference in their syntax: ‘only’ takes two syntactic arguments, a focus constituent which can be of any type, and a second argument, which has to compose with the first to form a proposition (following similar syntactic proposals in Rooth 1985, Mccawley 1995, Krifka 1996). The distribution of ‘only’ is further constrained by a constraint that assures that the size of the focus constituent must minimized (potentially motivated semantically, as proposed in Wagner 2006). Adverbs like ‘always’, by contrast, operate over a single argument.
A challenges to this view is the syntax of ‘even’, which seem to place it between the two categories of focus operators. We can get a better understanding of the syntax of ‘even’ once we control for whether ‘even’ is used additively or not. Whether ‘even’ carries an additive presupposition remains controversial. While Horn (1969), Karttunen and Peters (1979), Wilkinson (1996) and many others have argued that it does, Stechow (1991), Krifka (1992) and Rullmann (1997) reached the opposite conclusion. This talk identifies a new syntactic generalization about when ‘even’ triggers an additive presupposition, which provides further evidence for the analysis of the syntax of focus operators advocated here. It also reconciles the contradictory findings about additivity in the earlier literature. The analysis offers a new perspective on syntactic constraints on the distribution of related focus operators in German noted in Jacobs (1983) and Büring & Hartmann (2001).