The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 2/14 - Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Title: Syntax of either in either…or… sentences
Date and time: Thursday, 2/14, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Either in either…or… sentences can appear as the sister of a disjunction phrase (1), higher than the sister of a disjunction phrase (2)-(4), or lower (5)-(6), assuming the disjunction phrase is rice or beans in all these examples (based on observations by Larson (1985), Schwarz (1999), Han and Romero (2004), den Dikken (2006), a.o.).

(1) John will eat either rice or beans.

(2) John will either eat rice or beans.

(3) John either will eat rice or beans.

(4) Either John will eat rice or beans.

(5) John will either eat rice or he will eat beans.

(6) John either will eat rice or he will eat beans.

I propose an analysis of either that accounts for its distribution in these three types of sentences. I argue that there are two copies of either in an either … or … sentence. Either originates inside the disjunction phrase, and later moves (overtly or covertly) to be the sister of the disjunction phrase. In the meantime, ellipsis may delete material in the second disjunct that is identical to its counterpart in the first disjunct.

These independent ingredients of the proposal, namely the movement of either and ellipsis, may interact with each other and create complicated empirical results. In particular, I will discuss four empirical generalizations about either that the current proposal account for successfully while alternative proposals fall short.

I speculate, based on similarities between this analysis of either and previous analyses of focus-sensitive operators (e.g. Cable (2007) and Hirsch (2017)), that all focus-sensitive operators have what I call bipartite syntax: there are two instances of the operator in a sentence, one structurally higher than the other. The lower copy is semantically inert, and must c-command the focus from a local position. The higher copy agrees with a probe and/or marks semantic scope.