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LINGUIST List 19.629

Sun Feb 24 2008

Diss: Semantics: Zweig: 'Dependent Plurals and Plural Meaning'

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        1.    Eytan Zweig, Dependent Plurals and Plural Meaning


Message 1: Dependent Plurals and Plural Meaning
Date: 24-Feb-2008
From: Eytan Zweig <ez506york.ac.uk>
Subject: Dependent Plurals and Plural Meaning
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Institution: New York University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2008

Author: Eytan Zweig

Dissertation Title: Dependent Plurals and Plural Meaning

Linguistic Field(s): Semantics

Dissertation Director:
Anna Szabolcsi

Dissertation Abstract:

Bare plural arguments ('dogs') behave in ways that quantified plurals
('some dogs') do not. For instance, while the sentence 'John owns dogs'
implies that John owns more than one dog, its negation 'John does not own
dogs' does not mean 'John does not own more than one dog', but rather
'John does not own a dog'. A second puzzling behavior is known as the
dependent plural reading; when in the scope of another plural, the 'more
than one' meaning of the plural is not distributed over, but the
existential force of the plural is. For example, 'My friends attend good
schools' requires that each of my friends attend one good school, not
more, while at the same time being inappropriate if all my friends attend
the same school.

This dissertation shows that both these phenomena, and others, arise from
the same cause. Namely, the plural noun itself does not assert 'more than
one', but rather the plural denotes a predicate that is number neutral
(unspecified for cardinality). The 'more than one' meaning arises as an
scalar implicature. I propose a theory that derives this implicature, based
on two factors. The first is that, as is well-known, the domain of number
neutral predicates is a superset of the domain of atomic predicates.
However, this scalar implicature is insufficient to derive an implicature,
as the entailments associated with distributivity mean that the fact that
the scalar relationship between plural and singular predicates does not
result in a scalar relationship between the sentences that create them. I
address this problem by showing that in a Neo-Davidsonian theory, a scalar
relationship does exist before existential closure of the event variable.
It is at this point, I argue, that the implicature is derived. I will show
how this accounts for the behavior of plurals in a wide array of
environments. Furthermore, I will explore the consequences this theory has
for the analysis of the quantified noun phrases that interact with bare
plurals, such as the three way contrast between indefinite DPs such as
'three boys', which can take part both in cumulative readings with other
indefinites and in dependent readings with bare plurals, DPs such as 'all
the boys' which participate in dependent readings but not in cumulative
readings, and singular universals ('every boy'), which do neither.





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