The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

MIT Linguistics Colloquium - Mar 20 - Anna Szabolcsi

Speaker: Anna Szabolcsi (NYU)
Title: Raising Verbs as Quantifiers
Time: Friday, Mar 20, 3:30-5:00pm
Place: 32-141

Quantification over times and worlds in natural language is traditionally considered to be syntactically implicit. More recently tenses and modals have been treated as syntactically explicit quantifiers. I propose that new kind of evidence for the explicitly quantificational character of raising verbs of the “begin” and “threaten” type can be obtained from their scope interaction with the subject.

Consider the following two scenarios:

“HI scenario”
Who is getting good roles before April? Mary: no; Susan: no; Eva: yes
after April? Mary: yes; Susan: no; Eva: yes

“LO scenario”
Who is getting good roles before April? Mary: yes/no; Susan: no; Eva: yes
after April? Mary: yes; Susan: no; Eva: no

The following English sentence may describe either situation (the ambiguity is enhanced by the presence of the temporal adjunct). Notice that HI and the LO readings are logically independent.

In April only Mary began to get good roles.

HI: ‘only Mary went from not getting good roles to getting them’
LO: ‘it began to be the case that only Mary is getting good roles’

Other languages, Hungarian and Shupamem among them, have verb-initial orders that unambiguously carry the LO reading. They do that in two different ways. In Hungarian, “only Mary” is a nominative subject inside the infinitival complement (see Szabolcsi 2009). This talk will focus on the Shupamem type, where the fronting of “begin” appears to assign “begin” wide scope over the operator subject that has properly raised to the tensed clause. I will argue that “begin” does not only have quantificational content but explicitly quantifies over a time argument. Possibly the argument carries over to “threaten” type verbs binding a world argument.

Kusumoto 2005, On the quantification over times in natural language. Natural language Semantics 13: 317-357.
Lechner 2007, Interpretive effects of head movement. http://ling.auf.net/lingBuzz/000178
Schlenker 2006, Ontological symmetry in language: A brief manifesto. Mind and Language 21: 504-539
Szabolcsi 2009, Overt nominative subjects in infinitival complements in Hungarian. To appear in den Dikken & Vago, eds. http://semanticsarchive.net/Archive/jBkM2QxZ/