The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LF Reading Group 5/9 - Naomi Francis (MIT)

Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Title: Presupposition-denying uses of even
Date and time: Wednesday, May 9, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk explores a puzzle about how even interacts with presupposition-denying discourse moves. Even can be used in declarative sentences that deny presuppositions, but only if it appears below negation (1).

(1) A: Did Kenji’s wife go to the picnic? Presupposes: Kenji has a wife, i.e. is married.
B: He isn’t even married!
B’: #He’s even unmarried!

I present a solution to this puzzle that makes crucial use of the additive presupposition of even. This presupposition requires that, in addition to the prejacent (the sentence that hosts even) being true, at least one of its focus alternatives must be true as well. I propose that the relevant focus alternatives in this context all contain the trigger (Kenji’s wife) for the presupposition that the prejacent denies, meaning that they are incompatible with it. This means that the additive presupposition of even can only be satisfied if the presupposition that Kenji has a wife is appropriately “cancelled” within the alternatives, which I argue is only possible when these alternatives contain sentential negation (1B). Drawing on data from German, Greek, Russian, and Hebrew, I show that the contrast in (1) is not unique to English and that the proposed solution makes good crosslinguistic predicitons.