LINGUIST List 4.921

Fri 05 Nov 1993

Sum: Quantifier Scope

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  1. Michael Kac, Query Regarding Quantifier Scope

Message 1: Query Regarding Quantifier Scope

Date: Thu, 4 Nov 1993 12:37:49 -Query Regarding Quantifier Scope
From: Michael Kac <>
Subject: Query Regarding Quantifier Scope

With apologies for the delay, here is the promised summary of
responses to my query regarding the interpretation of the

 1. Every woman doesn't walk.
 2. Every woman runs and doesn't walk.
 3. Every woman doesn't run and walks.

I had three questions: whether any of the examples is scope-
ambiguous (and if so, which ones), whether the quantifier has
wide or narrow scope in unambiguous examples, and whether any
of the examples seems structurally odd. In addition to subscribers
to LINGUIST (of whom 28 responded) I sent paper queries to my
colleagues here in the philosophy department at Minnesota and to
our graduate students, eliciting 7 more responses. Not all of these
are included in the tabulation below since not every respondent
answered the questions I asked and and of those who did not all
did so in a way I could understand. At any rate, here are the
semantic judgements and the number of people reporting each:

None ambiguous, quantifier having wide scope in all three: 7

None ambiguous, quantifier having narrow scope in 1 and wide
scope in 2-3: 2

1 ambiguous and 2-3 unambiguous with quantifier having wide
scope: 9

1 and 2 ambiguous, 3 unambiguous with quantifier having wide
scope: 1

Unclassifiable responses: 6

I also asked whether any of the examples seemed structurally
odd. Some of the people in the 'unclassifiable' category above
responded that they're *all* odd and that they couldn't make head
nor tail of any of them. A few people had exactly the opposite
response -- didn't see anything strange anywhere. Six people
explicitly reported finding 3 odd (but without any comment on 1
or 2).

To the extent that a tendency can be determined here, it appears
to be this: there's a general preference for giving wide scope to
the quantifier when it comes first, though the preference is
stronger in cases like 2-3 than it is in simple sentences. Sentences
like 3 also appear to be troublesome. A few people indicated
explicitly that what bothered them about it was that they
expected the second verb to be *walk* rather than *walks*.

Perhaps this is the point at which I should reveal the reason for
my interest in these examples. My judgements are that 1 is
ambiguous and that 2-3 are not, the quantifier having wide scope.
Further, while I find 1-2 acceptable, I experience a garden path in
regard to 3. I wanted to know whether it was just me or if there
were others who responded similarly; evidently there are, though
other patterns emerge as well. My reasons for being interested
have to do with some work I'm presently doing on the interaction
of quantification and negation.

Not unexpectedly given that not everyone who responded is a
linguist, I experienced some resistance in taking my query at face
value, resulting in a few cases in some rather ill-tempered
outbursts of knuckle-rapping prescriptivism. Two of my
colleagues here went so far as to vehemently excoriate anyone
who would presume to associate the 'wrong' interpretation with
(1). To quote them directly:

Colleague A:

"I'm a logician and trained to be sensitive to these distinctions. It's
a COMMON MISTAKE [original emphasis] in English to say 'Every F
is not G' for 'Not every F is G'."

Colleague B:

"(1) is a poor way of saying 'no woman walks'."

Quite independently, John Nerbonne reminded me of sentences
like 'All is not lost', in which the quantifier clearly has narrow
scope. (Likewise, it occurs to me, for 'All that glisters is not gold'.)
So haha on you guys.

The contrubitors, to the extent that I can identify them, were:

Mark Baltin
Leslie Barrett
Wayles Browne
Sherri Condon
Matthew Dryer
David Gil
Michael Hand
Bill Hanson
Jeff Hellman
Greg Kaebnick
John Lee
Doug Lewis
Stavros Macrakis
Debbie Mandelbaum
Mike Maxwell
Ellen Morse-Gagne
Karen Mullen
Eleanor Olds Bachelder
And Rosta
Dale Russell
Steven Schaufele
Margaret Winter

My thanks to all who contributed; now I leave you to duke out the
disagreements among yourselves!

Michael Kac
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