The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 10/23 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch (MIT)
Title: Deconstructing exceptives
Date/Time:Thursday, October 23, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk looks at the semantics of exceptive expressions like but and other than. Building on insights in Gajewski (2008, 2013), I pursue an analysis of exceptives as sharing a common semantic core: a form of subtraction. But in (1) takes John as its argument and returns the set of all entities (atomic or plural) which do not include John. The resultant meaning composes with students by Predicate Modification, yielding the set of students not including John. This set is the restrictor of every.

(1) Every student but John came.

I will argue for an analysis of but as obligatorily strengthened by the Exh operator of Fox (2007). Exh is responsible for deriving the entailment in (1) that John did not come. The literature (in particular, Gajewski 2013) has pursued this approach, but with additional complications, which I will argue are avoidable.

I will show how the analysis extends to account for further empirical puzzles, in particular the incompatibility of exceptives with both, all when there is a numeral present (Moltmann 1993), and singular definites. Each expression in (2) introduces a presupposition about the size of its restrictor: the presupposes uniqueness, both presupposes duality, and all six presupposes a cardinality of six. I will argue that presuppositions project universally out of alternatives over which Exh quantifies, and that the result is presupposition conflict in each of (2a-c).

(2) a. *Both students but John came.
b. *All six students but John came.
c. *The student but John came.

Finally, I will show that the analysis sheds light on the typology of exceptives. But and other than are both a spell-out of the subtraction operator. The dimension on which they differ is that the but allomorph can only occur with Exh, while other than can occur with or without Exh. The availability of a parse without Exh will account for the freer distribution of other than than but and its fewer entailments:

(3) Some student other than/*but John came.
(John could have come also, or not.)
Three students other than/*but John came.
(John could have come also, or not.)

I will motivate the claim that other than is nonetheless optionally strengthened by testing for a parse with Exh using Hurford’s disjunctions.