The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 9/28 - Naomi Francis (MIT)

Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Title: There’s something odd about presupposition-denying even
Date/Time: Thursday September 28, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk will explore a puzzle about even. Even can be used in denials of presuppositions, but only when it is below negation in the surface string, as shown in (1).

1. A: Did Kenji bring his wife to the picnic?
  B: He isn’t even married!
  B’: #He’s even unmarried/a bachelor!

I show that this asymmetry is not straightforwardly reducible to independent properties of even or of presupposition denials, but is instead a property unique to sentences that are both presupposition denials and contain even. I present a solution to this puzzle that makes crucial use of the additive presupposition of even. This presupposition is controversial; I argue that the evidence used to challenge its presence does not show what it is usually claimed to show, and that when examined more closely these data turn out to be an argument in favour of the additive presupposition rather than against it. I show that this asymmetry is not unique to English and sketch crosslinguistic implications of the proposed analysis.