The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LF Reading Group 4/15 - Patrick Elliott (MIT)

Speaker: Patrick Elliott (MIT)
Title: Discussion of Chierchia’s (2020) “Origins of weak crossover”
Time: Wednesday, April 15th, 1pm – 2pm

Abstract: Weak Crossover (WCO) has occupied a central role in syntactic theory since at least Postal’s (1971) foundational work, and remains largely mysterious to this day. An illustration of WCO is given in (1b) – interpreting the pronoun “his” as a bound variable is impossible, despite the fact that the quantifier “everyone” can take scope over the pronoun. It’s tempting to conclude that scope can’t feed binding, but (1c) shows that this can’t be quite right – scope can feed binding, just so long as the binder *precedes* the pronoun.

1. a. Everyone1 likes his1 mother
b. *his1 mother likes everyone1
c. [Everyone1’s mother] likes him1.

In a recently published Natural Language Semantics paper, Chierchia (2020) attempts to provide an explanation for WCO on the basis of an independently motivated approach to the semantics of anaphora — *dynamic semantics* (Heim 1982, Groenendijk & Stokhof 1991, etc.). In order to do so, Chierchia proposes a departure from orthodox dynamic semantics – predicates, rather than arguments, are taken to induce binding. Chierchia argues convincingly that an approach to WCO grounded in dynamic semantics is empirically superior to existing alternatives, as, in addition to the core phenomena, it can account for, e.g., the possibility of binding into adjuncts.

I’ll outline the essential components of Chierchia’s approach to WCO, as well as assessing its empirical adequacy. Ultimately, I’ll argue that Chierchia’s approach has a fatal flaw – it fails to account for the fact that existential scope can feed anaphora, while still feeding WCO effects. In the latter part of the presentation, I’ll sketch a possible way forward.