The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Linguistics Colloquium 4/6 - Benjamin Spector

Speaker: Benjamin Spector — Institut Jean Nicod, ENS
Date/Time: 3:30 PM, Friday 04/06
Location: 32-141
Title: Generalized Scope Economy (Joint work with Clemens Mayr, ZAS Berlin)


It is a well-known fact that the relative scopes of several operators in a sentence do not always correspond to their relative surface positions. In order to account for such cases, covert scope shifting operations (CSSOs) such as QR and reconstruction have been assumed to apply, resulting in hierarchical structures that deliver the correct interpretation. Such operations, however, are not completely free to apply. One type of restriction on the application of CSSOs has been extensively studied, namely, locality constraints that prevent a CSSO from covertly moving an operator out of a so-called scope-island. There is, however, a second type of restriction that has not been studied to the same extent. In many cases, a CSSO seems to be able to shift the scope of a certain expression x in a sentence S but cannot affect the scope of some other expression – call it y – in a structurally parallel sentence where x has been replaced with y.

Consider for instance the following pair:

(1) Every student did not attend the talk
> Inverse-scope possible: Not every student attended the talk
(2) More than two students did not attend the talk
> Inverse-scope marginal: ??? No more than two students attended the talk.

In other words, the possibility of applying a CSSO seems to depend in part on the nature of the expressions that it targets. As far as we know, the only attempt to account for these types of restrictions in a general way is due to Beghelli & Stowell (1997). These authors propose to account for all the observed restrictions in terms of a cartographic analysis. They assume that CSSOs such as QR or reconstruction target different landing sites depending on the surface position and the nature of the item that undergoes the operation. Although this proposal has broad empirical coverage, it is not really explanatory, since it does not provide a principled account of why the hierarchy of landing sites is the way it is. We develop an alternative approach whose goal is to account for the observed restrictions in a unified way. We propose a new licensing constraint on CSSOs, which is itself a generalization of Fox’s 2000 Scope Economy. In short, we argue that a CSSO can only apply if the resulting interpretation is not logically stronger than or equivalent to the surface-scope interpretation. We will show that such a principle makes correct predictions for a broad range of structures, discuss how exactly it should be implemented, and address apparent counterexamples.