A revised, gradability-based semantics for even

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Abstract

This paper concentrates on giving precise content to the general wisdom on the scalar presupposition of even, according to which the prejacent of even, p, is stronger than its relevant focus alternatives, q. To that end I first examine both familiar challenges for the popular ‘comparative likelihood’ view of the ‘stronger than’ relation, as well as novel challenges, having to do with the context dependency of even (with entailed and non-entailed alternatives) and with its sensitivity to standards of comparison. To overcome these challenges and to account for the full range of data I develop a revised, ‘gradability-based’ scalar presupposition for even, which differs from the ‘comparative likelihood’ one in several respects: instead of directly comparing degrees to which propositions (namely p and q) are more or less likely, we compare extents to which non-focus entities x in p and q (in the accessible p worlds and the exhaustified q worlds) exceed the salient standard on a scale associated with a contextually supplied gradable property G. To capture cases where information about contrastive topics is crucial for fixing two distinct standards on G, I follow theories which view even as a general, two-place alternative-sensitive operator, allowing it to associate with both focus and contrastive topics. Beyond the ability to account for a large range of intricate felicity variations and inferences found with even, a more general contribution of the paper lies in showing the linguistic relevance of tools originally developed in the literature on gradable predicates to the semantics of scalar alternative–sensitive particles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-83
Number of pages33
JournalNatural Language Semantics
Volume26
Issue number1
Early online date16 Nov 2017
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

Keywords

  • Alternatives
  • Comparative
  • Contextual dependency
  • Contrastive topics
  • Entailment
  • Even
  • Focus
  • Gradable predicates
  • Likelihood
  • Positive form
  • Scalar presupposition
  • Standards of comparison

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