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Sun Mar 02 2014

Review: Linguistic Theories; Pragmatics; Semantics; Syntax: Csipak (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 16-Nov-2013
From: Pierre Larrivée <>
Subject: Beyond 'Any' and 'Ever'
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Eva Csipak
EDITOR: Regine Eckardt
EDITOR: Mingya Liu
EDITOR: Manfred Sailer
TITLE: Beyond 'Any' and 'Ever'
SUBTITLE: New Explorations in Negative Polarity Sensitivity
SERIES TITLE: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM] 262
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Pierre Larrivée, University of Caen Basse-Normandie

It is true that, as suggested by the title of this book, the study of negative
polarity items (NPIs) has tended to focus on selected expressions in a handful
of languages. English “any” and to a degree “ever” have often been taken as
the measure of negative polarity, which relate to the series of items whose
distribution or interpretation depends on particular environments.

(1) I didn’t ever buy any tickets in the end. / *I ever bought any tickets in
the end.

(2) If I ever bought any tickets, / *Although I ever bought any tickets,

(3) I’m glad we ever got any tickets. / ?*I know we ever got any tickets.

Polarity raises three issues referred to by Israel as the licensing, the
sensitivity and the diversity problems (2011: 31). What defines the various
licensing contexts polarity items such as negation, conditionals and emotive
factives illustrated above? A first type of definition -- called “monolithic”
by the editors in their introduction -- relies on one factor. This comprises
the Affective feature proposed by Klima (1964), Downward Entailment (DE) by
Ladusaw (1979), and Non-Veridicality by Giannakidou (1998). Ladusaw claims
that DE licenses NPIs as in (1), a context that validates inferences from sets
to subsets to support the inference from “I didn't buy a car'' to “I didn't
buy a BMW”; but since non-DE environments such as (2) and (3) also license
NPIs, revisions are proposed, notably by von Fintel (1999), whose notion of
Strawson Downward Entailment integrates utterance presuppositions. Giannakidou
purports that non-veridical contexts license NPIs because they do not assert
the existence of an event (as is found with negation in (1) and the
conditional in (2), neither of which communicating that a purchase took
place). While such monolithic approaches have the elegance of simplicity, they
may not account for all licensing cases -- conditionals as in (2) not being a
DE environment, emotive factives not being non-veridical -- and may lack the
finesse to account for granular variation between particular items.

The problems of sensitivity and diversity relate to why some items should be
sensitive to polarity context at all, and why this sensitivity should vary
between items (proposals to distinguish sub-classes of negative polarity on
the basis of sub-types of entailment having been made by Zwarts 1993). One way
to account for the intricacy of negative polarity is what the editors identify
as the second type of definitions of negative polarity, “conspiracy theories”.
Relating to scalar views of polarity (e.g. Duffley and Larrivée 2010), such
theories envisage negative polarity as the convergence between the meaning of
items and the meaning of contexts. This is a prominent assumption in the
formal scalar perspectives developed by many German colleagues, notably
Manfred Krifka (1995). That perspective shines through in the selection of
papers, collected from a 2011 Göttingen conference. Wider empirical coverage
is advocated, as is the conspiracy theory of polarity. The 13 chapters are
summarised and commented below, before an overall evaluation is provided.

Following the introduction by Regine Eckardt and Manfred Sailer, the first
chapter is on “Mapping the West Germanic ‘Any’” by Johan van der Auwera and
Lauren Van Alsenoy (pp. 21-44). Their objective is to account for the
historical development of the equivalents of “any” in West Germanic -- the
English version of course, and also Dutch “enig” and German “einig”, with
further reference to Frisian, Afrikaans, Pennsylvania Dutch and Yiddish. They
do so through a revised version of the semantic maps devised by Haspelmath
(1997) for synchronic typological explorations. Because they focus on contexts
rather than readings, Haspelmath’s maps do not distinguish between NPI and
Free Choice status in contexts such as conditionals in (2). The revised maps
taking explicit inspiration from the Aristotelian Square of Opposition have a
central spine of non-specific direct negation, non-specific negative polarity
and non-specific free-choice function, to which are adjoined qualitative
interpretations such as Dutch “Dit vind ik enig” ‘this find I any’ “I find
this wonderful”, comparable to qualitative uses of “some” (“That was some
party”). Although the revised maps have fewer cells and therefore make weaker
proposals in terms of possible routes of evolution, the paper illustrates how
Haspelmath’s semantic maps can be redrawn to make sense of item evolution in

Jack Hoeksema contributes the second chapter on “Polarity items in Strawsonian
contexts: a comparison” (pp. 47-77). He critically assesses characterisations
of negative polarity contexts as (Strawson) Downward Entailment and
non-veridicality. An impressive amount of quantitative data is presented on
the contextual distribution of “any”, “ever”, “anymore” (in US and UK English,
compared to the Dutch and German equivalents), adverbial “any” (as in “any
longer”), “remotely” in English and Dutch, minimizers, post-nominal “alive”,
“yet” and “as yet”, temporal NPIs such as “in weeks” in English and Dutch,
“need” in English, Dutch and German. Focus is on particular licensing contexts
of superlative and exceptive types (“only”, “the only”, “the first”, “the
last”). The intricacies of the data seem to support a conspiracy analysis
where the semantics of each item and context should account for distributional
differences. However, whether the unexpected variation can be explained
without stipulation remains to be seen: American English “anymore” is licensed
by “the only” but not by “only”, Dutch “meer” is licensed by “only” but not by
“the only”.

The evolution of one use of the little studied polarity item “either” is
offered by Volker Gast in “From ‘aegewaeder’ to ‘either’: The distribution of
a negative polarity item in historical perspective” (pp. 79-101). “Either” as
a determiner in present-day English is analysed as an existential quantifier,
that lives on discourse-old information -- “I bought two Austrian novels, but
I haven’t read either book” is felicitous because the notion of book is
introduced in the antecedent context, which isn’t the case of the notion of
sexes in the infelicitous “There didn’t exist either sex before the world was
created”. The evolution of “either” into an existential quantifier is due to
the decline of existential quantifier “outher” that pulls “either” in
existential functions. Its restriction to non-veridical contexts is explained
by the emergence of “both” that pushes “either” into negative polarity. The
convergence of meaning and context is thus illustrated by diachronic

A new general proposal on NPI licensing is put forward by Johan Brandtler in
“Evaluability: an alternative approach to polarity sensitivity” (pp. 103-125).
He observes that contemporary approaches to polarity licensing do not provide
an account of the distribution of Positive Polarity Items in Negative Polarity
Contexts such as conditionals (“If you’re still / ever going to visit your
aunt, you can ask her”) and of Negative Polarity Items in factive environments
(as in (3) above). Factive complement clauses in Swedish are identified by
overt marking on the edge of C that can be characterised by the notion of
evaluability, the ability to be accepted or challenged. While it is claimed
that the notion of (non)evaluability is superior to DE, non-veridicality and
Progovac-style syntactic binding, I found it difficult to assess how this
approach -- that seems very close to the non-veridicality analysis -- fares
better in accounting for problematic emotive factive contexts.

Interaction between negation and focus particles is discussed by Luka Crnic in
“How to get even with desires and imperatives” (pp. 127-153). “Even” normally
indicates the most unlikely occurrence in a series (“John made even a FILM (on
top of a book and an exhibition)”). This indication yields odd results in
?*“John made even ONE film” due to the conflicting knowledge that one
occurrence is the most likely quantity to be realised if a film is to made at
all. The oddity disappears in some factive subordinates and imperatives (“John
hopes to make even ONE film of this quality”), where “even” highlights the
least unlikely occurrence, a case highlighted by the existence of German focus
particle “auch nur”. Moving “even” over negation at LF is not going to be
available with hope predicates and positive imperatives (“Inspire even ONE
child and your job as a teacher is done”). An exhaustivity operator is
difficult to restrict to the relevant contexts. The upward-entailing value of
imperatives and factives makes them unlikely candidates to a modal environment
analysis that would license this strange NPI. The proper adjustments to either
of these treatments is left to future research, which it is suggested would
help in solving the licensing of NPIs in factives where a covert “even” might
be involved.

I-Ta Chris Hsieh provides a theoretical contribution “On NPI licensing in
possibility conditionals” (pp. 155-182). Conditionals of the type “If you’re
ever going to visit your aunt, she can tell you about the Kosovo war” are
generally assimilated to a possibility modal (“You might be going to visit
your aunt”). This assimilation however leads to inaccurate predictions: it
doesn’t follow from the cited example that if I visit my Canadian aunt as
opposed to say my Bosnian aunt that she can tell me about the bombing of
Kosovo, and the lack of downward monotonicity should bar NPI licensing,
contrary to observations. So rather than treating possibility modals as
existential quantifiers over worlds, they could be seen as universal
quantification over a subset of worlds, with which Strawson Downward
Entailment goes through to license NPIs.

“An analogy between a connected exceptive phrase and polarity item” is
proposed by Jon Gajewski (pp. 183-211). The Connected Exceptive Marker “but”
in “Nobody but Bill has visited their aunt this year” (as opposed to free
exceptives such as the “besides” phrase in “Besides Bill, nobody has visited
their aunt this year”) is comparable to a Negative Polarity Item. It demands a
polarity context, and introduces alternatives. These alternatives are deemed
to be of a second-order type, and exploited by an exhaustification operator.
The recursive application of the operator imposes syntactic minimality on the
connected exceptive phrase, and uniqueness at the second level.

The issue of what defines licensing contexts is revisited by Elena Herburger
and Simon Mauck in “The chance of being an NPI” (pp. 213-239). The remind the
reader that not all licensing contexts are Downward-Entailing (notably
conditionals, factive complements, as in (2), (3) above). The conventional
dimensions of NPI status should be captured by lexical properties of items,
and the view that NPIs include a covert “even” is considered but found wanting
because not all NPIs relate to the bottom of a scale. It is proposed in a
Minimalist approach that negative polarity be defined by an abstract feature
applying to NPIs and negative polarity licensing contexts. Such a view
accounts for historical changes in NPI status. It however raises the issue of
whether items such as “few” and “most” as sometimes licensors should be
analysed as feature-bearing. The strength of NPIs is also a question that the
authors refer to future research. It is surprising that recent proposals such
as Giannakidou (2010) and well-known feature-based analyses such as Martins
(2000) are ignored in this context.

Robert Levine considers “The modal need VP gap (non)anomaly” (pp. 241-265).
“Need” is a NPI as an auxiliary (“I need not know”), and is not as a “normal”
verb (“I need to know”). As an auxiliary, “need” should allow VP ellipsis
(“Should you worry about this? I think you needn’t”), in which case it is
licensed only with local negation (*“Should you worry about this? I don’t
think you need”) we are told, whereas other contexts license “need” outside
ellipsis cases (“OK I don’t think you need worry about this yet”). The HPSG
treatment suggests that “need” with a gap requires a local superstrong

Regine Eckardt and Eva Csipak discuss “Minimizers -- Towards pragmatic
licensing” (pp. 267-298). They further a conspiracy analysis by looking at the
behaviour of minimisers such “lift a finger”. These are not always readily
acceptable in the scope of “few”, “only” and “rarely”. The reason why “Few
students even lifted a finger” is infelicitous is that it evokes a minimal
action that does not exist in the real world. This raises the question of why
both “few” and “a few” license “a shred of” according to Google, in real-life
examples such as “few have a shred of real evidence to back up the claim”.
More empirical work is required on such expressions.

High degree polarity items are explored by Ai Matsui in the chapter
“Revisiting the licensing problem through understating NPIs -- The case of
Japanese ammari '(not) very much’” (pp. 299-322). The comparison between
Japanese ‘a(n)mari’ and near synonyms “sonnami” and “all that” is conducted to
validate the view that polarity emerges from the interaction between items and
context. The unexpected distribution of the Japanese items is found in
“because” clauses. In the equivalent of “I turned on the air conditioner
because the room was so hot”, the occurrence of the NPI is analysed in terms
of relevance, lack of relevance of a question such as “Is it all that hot?”
being blamed for the apparent infelicity of the sequence. How to establish
relevance is not spelt-out in a clearly transferable way.

Edgar Onea and Manfred Sailer deal with degree expression “all that” in
“Really all that clear?” (pp. 323-350). They use three methods to test their
semantic analysis according to which the presupposition of a high degree held
typically by someone other than the speaker is denied typically by the
speaker: in “The task isn’t all that hard”, the speaker is rejecting the
previously entertained notion that the task is hard to a high degree. Corpus
profile, informant judgement (of 5 native speakers) and an informant judgement
experiment (by 23 native speakers) suggest that “all that” is a weak NPI and
document some complexities, as the convergent role of “realise” and “only” for
the acceptability of “John realised that only very happy people are all that
satisfied with their lives”, as compared to ??“Only very happy people are all
that satisfied with their lives” which seems less felicitous. The notion that
lexical semantics accounts for polarity distribution without explicit
reference to a negative polarity category supports the conspiracy theory
evoked in the introduction.

Mingya Liu, Regine Eckardt and Janina Rado present the results of three
experimental studies in “Polarity in context” (pp. 351-368). They are
concerned with the scalar analysis of polarity, such that polarity items give
rise to a range of alternatives and represent the strongest alternative in the
contexts that license it. This implies that scalar values uncontroversially
evoked by a minimiser should favour the licensing of polarity items. This
assumption is verified in three acceptability judgement tests, one concerning
“auch nur” with and without a minimiser NPI, one relating to “auch nur”
without a minimiser but in a scalar context, and the last integrating the
three variables of “auch nur” and a minimiser in a scalar context. The results
confirm expectations in that “auch nur” is rated as more acceptable when used
with an NPI. However, “auch nur” actually received lower ratings in a scalar
context than out-of-context. In this light, the claim made in the conclusion
that “auch nur” is sensitive to discourse-old information, whereas “even”
would accommodate such information, seems unsupported.

The volume has the material quality and the price tag associated with de
Gruyter volumes. It contains few typographical errors and only a brief
notional index. Unsurprisingly, the book is marked by the German tradition in
more ways than one. Many issues that arise in Germanic languages find their
places in the volume, notably the little discussed “weak even” case
represented by German “auch nur”. Formal semantic frameworks are well
represented, often integrating pragmatic dimensions.

Interesting contributions from leading scholars on the question of polarity
are brought together with no less interesting chapters from younger
colleagues. The objectives of dealing with unexplored questions and of
furthering a conspiracy analysis of polarity where felicity is explained by
convergence between meaning of items and contexts are partially met.
Obviously, however, a conspiracy analysis is bound to be ill-equipped to
explain arbitrary conventions imposed by particular languages. As noted by
Larrivée (2007), “at all” and “du tout” are indistinguishable at the
interpretation level, but have very different distributions, such that the
English version is a weak NPI (“If you need anything at all” is fine) whereas
the French is a superstrong one (bad not only in conditionals and questions,
but also with most n-words, and only good with clause-mate propositional

Inevitably for a volume emerging from a conference, many chapters explore
similar concerns, while other issues in the field are not touched on. Maybe a
thematic grouping of chapters would have furthered homogeneity. It is
regrettable that more cross-referencing is not found between the
contributions, and that there is some amount of “dialogue de sourds” involved
-- claims shown not to hold in some parts of the book being used as
explanations in other parts. Apart from a couple of exceptions, the
bibliography of individual chapters tends to be reasonably inclusive.

The audience will mostly be specialists working on negative polarity.

Duffley, Patrick and Pierre Larrivee. 2010. Anyone for non-scalarity? English
Language and Linguistics 14,1, 1-17.

Giannakidou, Anastasia. 2010. The dynamics of change in Dutch enig: From
nonveridicality to strong negative polarity. Natural Language and Linguistic
Theory 28,4, 861-875.

Giannakidou, Anastasia. 1998. Polarity sensitivity as (non)veridical
dependency. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Haspelmath, Martin. 1997. Indefinite pronouns. Oxford: Oxford University

Israel, Michael. 2011. The Grammar of Polarity: Pragmatics, Sensitivity, and
the Logic of Scales. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Klima, Edward. 1964. Negation in English. J. A. Fodor & J. J. Katz (eds.). The
Structure of Language. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. 246-323.

Krifka, Manfred. 1995. The semantics and pragmatics of polarity items.
Linguistic Analysis 25, 1-49.

Ladusaw, William. 1979. Negative Polarity as Inherent Scope Relations. PhD
dissertation, U. of Texas. Published New York: Garland, 1980.

Larrivee, Pierre. 2007. Du tout au rien: libre-choix et polarité négative.
Paris: Champion.

Martins, Ana Maria. 2000. Polarity Items in Romance: Underspecification and
Lexical Change. Susan Pintzuk, George Tsoulas and Anthony Warner (eds).
Diachronic Syntax: Models and Mechanisms. Oxford and New York: Oxford
University Press. 191-219.

von Fintel, Kai. 1999. NPI-licensing, Strawson-entailment, and
context-dependency. Journal of Semantics 16, 97-148.

Zwarts, Frans. 1993. Three types of polarity. MS. Published in 1998 in F. Hamn
and E. Hinrichs (eds). Plural Quantification. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Pierre Larrivee is Professor in French Linguistics at Universite de Caen
(France). He currently works on the interface between pragmatics and
grammatical variation and change in French and English. His recent papers on
the evolution of negation have been published in journals such as Lingua,
Linguistics, the Journal of Pragmatics and English Language and Linguistics.
He heads the research centre CRISCO, which primarily develops work on the
relationship between syntax and interpretation.

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