The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 4/6 - Mia Nussbaum

Speaker: Mia Nussbaum (MIT)
Title: On the difference between only and just
Time: Monday, April 6, 2015
Place: 32-D808

In some cases, the exclusive particles only and just appear to be interchangeable:

(1) Mary (only/just) read War and Peace.
(2) (Only/just) three professors came to the party.

In this talk, I’ll be taking a look at some contexts where they diverge, foremost among them the phenomenon of “minimal sufficiency readings” in conditionals.

(3) If just three people get on the boat, it will sink.
(4) #If only three people get on the boat, it will sink.

In addition to the somewhat implausible reading where three people will sink the boat but four people might not, the sentence with just in (3) has an interpretation that’s unavailable with only. This is the minimal sufficiency reading, which can be paraphrased as “If at least three people (which is not a lot) get on the boat, it will sink.”

I will look at some arguments for and against two competing analyses of minimal sufficiency readings: Grosz (2011)’s lexical-ambiguity hypothesis, and Coppock and Beaver (2014)’s scope hypothesis.