Indefinites and the Type of Sets (Explorations in Semantics)

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Sentence 41 illustrates this phenomenon. There are nonmanual expressions that typically occur with expressions of uncertainty.

As observed by MacLaughlin , p. These same expressions frequently occur with the indefinite particle, although the eyebrows are sometimes raised typical of focused constituents. We have also observed that this particle frequently occurs with a sudden shift in eye gaze to the left or right, as shown in Figure 2 with respect to sentences 24 and 21 , discussed earlier and repeated here as 44 and This eye behavior remains to be studied carefully, but there is a definite pattern that has emerged from our data.

We now return to consider other constructions in which this particle frequently appears, expressed with the dominant hand, the non-dominant hand, or both hands. This is illustrated by the following sentences:. As with the complements of non-factive verbs recall 27 - 29 , these are situations in which the truth of the embedded proposition is called into question.

It is interesting that in these examples the particle is signed solely on the non-dominant hand and may be held, at least until that hand is needed to participate in the articulation of a 2-handed sign, such as RAIN or PARTY. Another similar use of the indefinite particle is illustrated in the following example, taken from a story by Mike Schlang:.

As already noted, this particle occurs with great frequency in wh-questions, as illustrated here:. In some cases, the particle may be articulated on one hand while the wh-phrase is articulated with the other, as occurred in sentence 8 , repeated here as 54 :. We have identified a previously overlooked particle in ASL that occurs with great frequency in question constructions and sentences that involve some kind of indefiniteness. This particle occurs with a precise distribution and interacts phonologically with other signs, as discussed in section 3.

In this section, we will attempt a more rigorous statement of the contribution of part:indef to the meaning of the utterance. We note at the outset, however, that our conclusions will necessarily be tentative, as the full range of contexts in which the part:indef particle can appear requires further systematic exploration.

Let us consider first the cases in which part:indef appears with indefinites. That is, whereas 55 simply asserts that a boat sank near Cape Cod, 56 repeating 18 asserts that some perhaps unusual kind of boat sank near Cape Cod, and 57 repeating 24 asserts that some boat or perhaps something only relevantly like a typical boat sank near Cape Cod.

Thus, whatever the extension of the phrase would be without part:indef normally fairly restricted contextually , it would be expanded to include other referents when part:indef is attached. The examples in 55 — 57 also demonstrate that part:indef has scopal properties; it can attach to different types of phrases and will widen the interpretation of whatever phrase it is attached to.

In this connection, however, we should also point out part:indef appears to be allowed at or above its logical scope position at least superficially like only in English ; thus, many of the cases discussed below where part:indef appears higher in the structure also have alternative interpretations in which part:indef logically associates with an internal constituent. The explanation of part:indef with indefinites given above can be extended straightforwardly to the cases of part:indef with wh -words.

Usually, the range of values that a wh -word can stand in for is contextually restricted in much the same way as an indefinite like someone , and just as with the indefinites discussed above, when used with a wh -word part:indef also expands the domain of possible referents. This conveys the feeling that the questioner really has no idea what the answer is, that the true answer might be outside the set of possible answers the questioner would consider typical. This is clear already from 56 : the fact that some perhaps unusual kind of boat sank near Cape Cod does not further entail that a usual boat sank near Cape Cod.

However, the Widening effect on part:indef does make it particularly well-suited for contexts in which negative polarity items like the English any appear, since it creates a stronger more informative statement. In 59 , the particle extends the characterization of the hall monitor that is being negated: not only was the hall monitor not friendly, he was nothing like friendly.

Consider, for example, the cases where WHO is followed by a phonologically reduced version of the particle expressed solely with the dominant hand. This does not naturally occur when the wh -phrase is in situ. Sentence 60 would be unnatural without a great deal of stress on the first sign followed by a significant pause, marking that in situ phrase as being in focus. In contrast, the sentences shown in 61 would occur quite naturally in a context where it was known that somebody saw Joan and the questioner wished to ask who saw Joan. Again, rightward wh-movement of WHO occurs only when it is focused.

Moreover, part:indef is not allowed with just anything focused in the sentence. For use of part:indef , it must be the indefinite that is in focus. On one reading of 63 , the particle serves to emphasize that mother should not buy any cars, typical or not. Another available reading of 63 comes about by Widening higher, at the VP level, where what is meant is that Mother should not buy a car or do anything like buying a car.


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Sentence 64 is simply asking whether or not the proposition that you went to Europe is true, while 65 asks whether you went to Europe or did anything like going to Europe. If we allow for propositions to be true to varying degrees of certainty, we can characterize the contribution of part:indef as serving to allow consideration of degrees of certainty other than for sure. We can view this as another case of Widening, now on the degree of certainty with which the speaker regards the proposition to be true.

The sentence in 69 expresses that it ought to be the case that father will give the car to John, but at the same time expresses some doubt as to whether, in reality, this will happen. In these uses as is clear in some of the other examples, as well , part:indef functions like a speaker-oriented adverb akin to fortunately , certainly , or presumably. The last function of part:indef we will consider here is its use in managing conflicts in the discourse. If evidence arises that participants disagree about the plausibility of a proposition or presupposition, part:indef can be recruited to assist.

This, too, can be seen as a Widening effect, in this case on the entire proposition itself expanding the referent to the proposition and propositions deemed similar, given the context.


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In a related use, consider a situation in which Mary asks John a question. The presupposition that led Mary to ask John such a question is her belief that he might know the answer. Suppose that Pete does not believe that this presupposition is plausible. Pete might say to Mary:. Here, part:indef is used to communicate the utter falsity of that presupposition: not only is it false that John knows the answer, anything contextually like John knowing the answer is also false.

It is not entirely clear whether a different kind of analysis is needed to account for the situations in which the particle seems to be associated with a presupposition or potential causality that is not explicitly stated.

Negative polarity as scope marking | SpringerLink

For example, compare 71 with The meaning contribution of the particle is essentially the same in both cases; yet, in 72 , there is no explicit negation in the sentence. Each of the examples is a denial of an implicit presupposition of the addressee. It is clear that part:indef is mostly responsible for the disbelieving tone of such examples, but a formal solution based on a Widening effect in the pragmatic context has so far proved elusive.

This is in some ways similar to the example given in 34 , repeated below as Here, what is being highlighted is the disconnect between the indisputable reality and the expected situation.

Whether such constructions should be analyzed as Widening, in a sense related to but perhaps a bit different from the others we have considered, or whether a different account would be more appropriate for these usages of the particle must be left as a question for further investigation. It is worth reiterating that the landscape of facts is still being explored, making certain details of the analysis necessarily preliminary; however, the overall pattern seems to fit well with the approach we have endorsed here.

We have described here a particle that occurs with great frequency in ASL but which has not been previously analyzed in the literature, to our knowledge. The second is the fundamental question of why polysemy exists at all. What is it about our language systems—specifically their lexical component—that makes them so susceptible to polysemy? Why do language users rather use the same word to refer to different things or properties than have a distinct word for each sense? Accounts of how polysemy arises in linguistic and extralinguistic context can broadly be divided into two main camps: rule- or coercion-based approaches and pragmatic inferential approaches.

For instance, Copestake and Briscoe suggest that the rule of universal grinding Pelletier, and a set of conventionalized subcases of it meat-grinding, fur-grinding, etc. Asher takes a somewhat different approach to regular polysemy in his coercion-based approach. He suggests that instances of regular polysemy—those that pass the co-predication and anaphoric binding tests e. Other types of polysemy—those that do not pass the co-predication and anaphoric binding tests e. On rule- and coercion-based approaches, polysemy could be motivated by a goal of economy of expression, representing an effort-saving strategy for the speaker and contributing to linguistic-communicative efficiency.

The speaker can rely on the addressee to apply the requisite linguistic mechanism s to generate the contextually appropriate sense. Although rule- and coercion-based approaches do not explicitly adhere to this position, it provides them with a plausible explanation for why polysemy is such a pervasive phenomenon in natural languages see Falkum, , for discussion.

A central claim of lexical pragmatics is that word meanings typically undergo pragmatic modulation in the form of conceptual specification, broadening, metaphorical or metonymic extension in the course of utterance interpretation, and this is what gives rise to polysemy. The ubiquity of polysemy in natural languages suggests that speakers and hearers might find it easier to extend already existing words to related domains than to invent new words for each sense, and lexical pragmatic processes are thought to play a key role in enabling communicators to do this.

The existence of polysemy has a strong motivation on this pragmatic account, where it arises to meet the communicative needs of speakers and hearers Falkum, Polysemy is seen as one stage along the path to semantic change, where related senses of a word—which may have emerged at historically different periods—coexist for a certain time in a language, both in individual speakers and in language communities see Traugott, Semantic Change , before one takes over from the other in conventional usage. Asher, N. Lexical meaning in context: A web of words.

click here Cambridge, U. Find this resource:. Carston, R. Thoughts and utterances: The pragmatics of explicit communication. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Cruse, A.