The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling Lunch 4/2 - Cassandra Chapman

Speaker: Cassandra Chapman (McMaster University/ MIT)
Title: Restricting the antecedent domain using focus: New evidence from English DPs
Time: Thurs 4/2, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

In this talk, I investigate a previously overlooked use of the English morphological form one, which occurs with the definite determiner and an overt noun, i.e. “the one dress”. I show that these constructions have a distinct interpretation from numeral “one” constructions and definite descriptions. Similarly to a subset of definite descriptions, the referent in “the one” N constructions must have an antecedent in the context. However, they differ from definite descriptions because the context cannot restrict the domain to a set that contains only one individual. I also show that in “the one” N constructions, either “one” or a modifier, e.g. “blue”, must be Focus-marked.

I argue that the English data provide empirical support for a covert restrictor variable, R (Bartošová, accepted; von Fintel and Heim, 2011), in the DP structure. I propose that R ensures that there is a salient antecedent in the common ground, in a similar way to Rooth’s ~ operator. Unlike Rooth’s ~ operator, which requires a propositional antecedent, I argue that R is of a flexible semantic type (cf. Schwarzschild 1999’s compositional notion of givenness). Specifically, I propose that R adjoins to Focus-marked maximal projections, and that its type depends on the semantic type of its sister. I argue that the introduction of a covert restrictor variable into the structure of English DPs not only allows us to provide a unified analysis of the different anaphoric readings of one but that it may also shed light on how we might understand Rooth’s ~ operator, and how we might relate Rooth’s theory of focus to Schwarzschild’s theory of givenness.