The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LF Reading Group 5/1 - Shumian Ye (MIT/Peking University)

Speaker: Shumian Ye (MIT/Peking University)
Title: Negated disjunctions in Mandarin revisited
Time: Wednesday, May 1st, 1-2PM
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this talk, I will argue that OR in Mandarin is neither an NPI nor a PPI, contra Crain (2012). First, when embedded by negations, certain disjunctions obligatorily take the narrow scope, while Hurford disjunctions obligatorily take the wide scope. Compare (1) with (2).

(1) ta mei quguo Beijing huo qita chengshi.
she NEG have.been Beijing OR other cities
Unique reading: She hasn’t been to Beijing or any other cities. (¬ > ∨)

(2) zhe ping jiu de jiage bu chaoguo shi kuai huo ershi kuai.
this CL wine DE price NEG exceed ten dollars OR twenty dollars
Unique reading: The price of this wine doesn’t exceed $10, or doesn’t exceed $20. (∨ > ¬)

Second, most negated disjunctions are ambiguous in Mandarin. Which reading is salient seems to depend on the higher modals and the contexts. Compare (3) with (4).

(3) ta kending mei quguo Beijing huo Shanghai.
she definitely NEG have.been Beijing OR Shanghai
Salient reading: She definitely hasn’t been to Beijing, nor to Shanghai. (¬ > ∨)

(4) ta keneng mei quguo Beijing huo Shanghai.
she maybe NEG have.been Beijing OR Shanghai
Salient reading: She maybe hasn’t been to Beijing, or hasn’t been to Shanghai. (∨ > ¬)

More crucially, the disjunctions can still take wide scope when the negated disjunctions are in the scope of a downward entailing operator, that is, OR in Mandarin cannot be rescued as a PPI (Szabolcsi 2004). After going through these arguments, I will take other modals into consideration and give a preliminary explanation for the contrast between (3) and (4), which mainly relies on two factors: 1) Interaction between different modals and ignorance/uncertainty inferences, 2) Competition between OR and AND.