The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Rajesh Bhatt at MIT

Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst) will be making an extended visit this week. In addition to his colloquium talk on Friday, he’ll be giving a mini course on Thursday on the theory of indefinites in Hindi-Urdu and its implications for polarity and movement cross-linguistically:

Speaker: Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst)
Title: Hindi-Urdu Indefinites, Polarity and Movement
Date/Time: May 11th, 11:30am-2:30pm
Place: 32-D461 (tentative)

[joint work with Vincent Homer, UMass]

Typically, Positive Polarity Items (PPIs), e.g. ‘would rather’, cannot be interpreted in the scope of a clausemate negation (barring rescuing or shielding) (Baker 1970, van der Wouden 1997, Szabolcsi 2004 a.o.):

1a. John would rather leave.
1b. *John wouldn’t rather leave.

The scope of most of them is uniquely determined by their surface position. But PPI indefinites are special: they can surface under negation and yet yield a grammatical sentence under a wide scope interpretation:

2. John didn’t understand something. ok: SOME > NEG;*NEG > SOME

Here we address the question of the mechanism through which a PPI of the `some’ type takes wide scope out of an anti-licensing configuration. One possibility is (covert) movement, another is mechanisms that allow indefinites to take (island-violating) ultra-wide scope such as choice functions (Reinhart 1997). The relevant configurations that have motivated choice functions for other languages can be set up for Hindi-Urdu too.
We can therefore assume that a device that generates wide-scope for indefinites without movement is available in Hindi-Urdu too. We show that in Hindi-Urdu at least, this device is unable to salvage PPIs in the relevant configuration. Only good old fashioned overt movement does the needful. If we think of overt movement in Hindi-Urdu as being the analogue of covert movement elsewhere, then the Hindi-Urdu facts are an argument that it is movement, albeit covert, that salvages PPIs in English too, not alternative scope-shifting devices. We explore whether the conclusion from Hindi-Urdu does in fact extend to English.