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Two upcoming defenses

This week the department is anticipating two defenses based on syntax-semantics research. In the first, on Wednesday, fourth-year  Yaron McNabb is scheduled to defend his dissertation prospectus on ‘The syntax and semantics of intensifiers and other degree expressions’ at 12:00 p.m. in the department lounge.

Then on Thursday, June 10, Suwon Yoon will be defending her dissertation, ‘Not in the Mood: The Semantics and Syntax of Expletive Negation’ at 10:00 a.m. in the department lounge (Classics 312). A copy of the dissertation can, as always, be found in the Linguistics department office prior to the defense.

Good luck, Suwon and Yaron!

(The abstract of each work can be found below.)

The syntax and semantics of intensifiers and other degree expressions

Degree expressions are words and phrases like very and a little bit, which modify a large class of syntactic categories, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other degree expressions. The focus of this study is those degree expressions that modify adjectives or occur in a structure that involve adjectives, with special attention to intensifiers.

Early work on degree terms (Bresnan 1973, Jackendoff 1977, Corver 1997) includes syntactic accounts of the distribution of degree expressions in English (and Dutch in Corver 1997 and Neeleman et al. 2004). Corver (1997), following Abney (1987), explains syntactic differences between two main classes of degree terms: more, less, and enough (Class-1 terms) on the one hand, and too, as, and how (Class-2 terms) on the other hand, by arguing that they head two different phrases, a DegP and a QP, respectively. Neeleman et al. (2004), on the other hand, argue that the difference between the two types of degree terms stems from their different internal structures and structural relations with the AP and other constituents. Specifically, Class-1 terms are heads, as Corver argues, but Class-2 terms are adjuncts. I discuss these competing analyses and present data from Hebrew, in which most, if not all, degree terms seem to behave like adjuncts. These data suggest that there is cross-linguistic variation in the structure of degree terms: While languages like English and Dutch exhibit a Class 1 vs. Class 2 distinction, languages like Hebrew possess only (or mostly) Class 2 degree terms (i.e., adjuncts). And if languages differ in the extent to which they exhibit a Class 1/Class 2 distinction, there could be languages that only have Class 1 degree terms (i.e., heads). I suggest that the third language category includes languages that only use reduplication for intensification (e.g., Korean, see Sohn 2004) and bound morphemes for other degree expressions (e.g., comparatives, wh-phrases).

Compositional semantic accounts (Kennedy 1999, Kennedy & McNally 2005, Svenonius & Kennedy 2006) adopt similar structures to the ones proposed by Abney and Corver to provide combined syntactic-semantic accounts for the meaning of gradable adjectives, degree terms, and comparatives. Kennedy & McNally (2005) extend the compositional account to explain the distribution of the diverse class of degree terms, proposing that the various permutations and correct interpretations of degree terms and adjectives are a result of the denotational differences among the various degree terms. That is, the syntax is simpler than in Corver (1997) and Kennedy (1999)—following Pollard & Sag’s (1994) HPSG account of degree expressions as specifiers, cf. Jackendoff 1977— but the allowed combinations of degree terms and adjectives depend on their semantic compatibility. I assess Kennedy & McNally’s typological claims in light of data from multiple degree expressions and degree term repetition. In addition, I discuss the implication of this typology on the syntactic account. Degree terms that are classified as modifiers in Kennedy & McNally’s system could possibly be syntactic adjuncts, while degree terms that saturate arguments or change the type of adjective or structure they take as input could be analyzed as syntactic heads. The data I consider suggest that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the semantic types of degree terms and their syntactic behaviour. In addition, type-shifting rules or the application of null functional heads like pos seems to be necessary in cases that were previously claimed to not apply in, in order to account for the computation of multiple degree terms.

The main purpose of this study is to provide a cross-linguistic account of the syntactic and semantic typology of intensifiers and other degree expressions. The diversity of degree expressions within a language and cross-linguistically can be accounted for by considering the syntactic and semantic effect of it members— syntactically, whether they are heads or adjuncts, and semantically, whether they are heads or modifiers — and whether they permit multiple degree modification, while factoring morphosyntactic and semantic language-internal parameters to account for cross-linguistic variation.

Not in the Mood: The semantics and syntax of expletive negation

The primary goal of the present study is to gain more insight into the phenomena of Expletive Negation. Contrary to the traditional term ‘expletive’ negation, I propose that this particular type of negation in a variety of contexts is a semantic creature that uniformly shows two properties:

(i) it reveals semantic dependency on nonveridicality that is parallel to polarity items;

(ii) it triggers an evaluative sense, just like certain uses of subjunctive mood. In this light, the abbreviation EN in this dissertation will refer to Evaluative Negation.

Chapter 1 starts with the hallmark properties of EN and theoretical backgrounds. In Chapter 2, I show how EN in various environments can be captured by a single principle – a scalar semantics on a separate dimension. This systematicity motivates the current proposal that EN and the (evaluative use of) subjunctive mood are of similar nature. I show the core properties of EN can be characterized as a certain inequality relation in terms of probability, certainty, desirability, directness of speech, temporality, or degree. It is further shown that the base of scale denoted by EN may vary depending on the context or the speaker’s emotional state, perhaps reflected in the tone of voice. In doing so, I propose that EN is not a reflex of imperfection of language. Rather, EN represents another legitimate function of negation in natural language, where a negative element is adopted for the purpose of circumventing a commitment to the truthful statement.

Chapter 3 offers a critical review of two predominant theories of expletive negation – expletive approaches and non-expletive approaches. Taking more data into consideration, I provide empirical and conceptual arguments as to why prior theories require revision. First, it is shown that, contra the assumption of expletive approaches, EN is indeed a semantic element. Second, the non-expletive approaches are unable to predict the variability that we find within a context and within a language.

Chapter 4 (4.1) discusses the conceptual and empirical parallels between the subjunctive mood and EN. Conceptually, both the selection of subjunctive mood and EN can be interpreted as carrying a certain semantic attitude of the epistemic subject. I further present a number of crosslinguistic empirical connections which reveal that language may choose EN, the subjunctive, or both for the task. Just like subjunctive-selecting contexts in languages like Greek (c.f. Romance languages have wider distributions of subjunctive), the fact that EN requires a nonfactive  complementizer and a subjunctive predicate in Korean and Japanese should not be a big surprise. In 4.2, I entertain the potential analysis assuming that the semantics of EN is parallel to the semantics of the subjunctive in Villalta’s semantics of comparison, and discuss the problems.

In chapter 5, I propose that the semantics of EN is parallel to the semantics of the subset of the subjunctive, i.e. evaluative subjunctive. In trying to solve the puzzle of how EN gives rise to the various meanings that are classified into various subspecies of EN in chapter 2, I propose that, instead of treating them as separate creatures, it is preferable to delimit these evaluative properties to a unitary phenomenon – a dependent item on noveridicality with evaluative sense. It is shown that EN in different environments exhibits a striking parallel in interpretation as a certain ordering relation. By means of multidimentionality of conventional implicature (Potts 2005), I show how evaluative semantics of EN exists on a separate dimension from the semantic core of utterance. Contrary to most previous views that dismiss the meaning of EN, calling it expletive, the current semantics captures the precise semantics for what EN may comment on an utterance. If my analysis is on the right track, it has one important implication: It allows the generalization that various subspecies of EN in language are indeed part of the grammar. In particular, they are reflexes of grammaticalization of perspective and subjective mode, on par with subjunctive mood choice.

In chapter 6, I investigate how the syntax of EN sentences can be embedded into a general theory of the syntax of the subjunctive mood. The goal is to show how semantic aspects discussed in this dissertation are reflected in their syntactic representation. In 6.1, I show that evaluative features can be contained in a variety of loci such as EN, subjunctive-selecting predicates, subjunctive morphology, evaluative adverbs, and subjunctive complementizers. Then, in 6.2, following a previous assumption that pragmatically/semantically-relevant features must be represented in syntactic projections (Cinque 1999 for adverbs; Speas 2003 for evidentials; Kempchinsky 2009 for subjunctive mood), I suggest syntactic operations of sentences with dynamic meaning, illustrating how each evaluative feature in EN and other subjunctive elements is identified and checked off.

Chapter 7 offers a case study of rhetorical comparatives in which the fundamental connection between polarity items and subjunctive mood (Giannakidou 2009), and between subjunctive mood and EN (new) is revealed. It is further shown that what lies beneath the proposed connection is the principle of nonveridicality. This analysis, if correct, has two important consequences: First, the analysis accounts for interlinguistic variation in subordinate EN between Japanese/Korean and other languages. Second, it opens the possibility of systematically characterizing EN in other environments such as exclamatives, questions, certain temporal conjunctions and comparatives, hence capturing intralinguistic variation.

Posted by on June 7, 2010.

Categories: defenses, students

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