The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG II 5/3: Natalia Ivlieva & Sam Alxatib

Speakers: Natalia Ivlieva & Sam Alxatib
Date/Time: 5/3 (Thu) 10 am-11:30 am
Location: 32-D831


In this talk, we will discuss several puzzles related to the superlative modifiers ‘at least’ and ‘at most’.

a) Superlative modifiers trigger obligatory ignorance inferences, as shown in (1):

(1) John read at least 5 books. #More precisely, he read 7.

b) Under universal quantifiers these ignorance inferences can disappear, as shown in (2):

(2) To pass the exam, you are required to read at least 5 books.

c) Under existential modals, ‘at most’ and ‘at least’ behave differently – ‘at most’ can lead to the disappearance of ignorance inferences, whereas ‘at least’ cannot:

(3) Your paper is allowed to be at most 15 pages.
(4) *Your paper is allowed to be at least 15 pages.

We will discuss Schwarz’s approach to superlative modifiers based on his handout from the “Indefinites and Beyond” workshop and see how well the approach can handle the puzzles described above.