The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 10/13 — Tanya Bondarenko (MIT)

Title: When clauses are Weak NPIs: polarity subjunctives in Russian
Time: Wednesday, 10/13, 1pm
Location: 32-D461 (with MIT COVID Pass or Tim Ticket, plus contact tracing information)

Abstract: In this talk I investigate a class of verbs in Russian which take polarity subjunctives (Rivero 1971, Stowell 1993, Brugger & D’Angelo 1995, Giannakidou 1995, Giannakidou & Quer 1997, Quer 1998, Siegel 2009, Quer 2009, Giannakidou 2011, a.o.)—embedded subjunctive clauses whose acceptability depends on the properties of the environment. For example, in (1) we see that Russian pomnit’ ‘remember’ cannot take subjunctive clauses (morphologically expressed by the particle by that attaches to the complementizer) in an upward-entailing environment. However, when the embedding verb occurs under negation, in the scope of tol’ko ’only’ or in a question, both indicative and subjunctive complements are possible, (2)-(4).

(1) Mitja     pomnit,         čto        /*čto-by         Anja    kurila.
      Mitya    remembers   COMP    /COMP-SUBJ    Anya    smoked

      ‘Mitya remembers that Anya smoked.’

(2) Mitja     ne      pomnit,         čto        /čto-by         Anja    kurila.
      Mitya    NEG   remembers  COMP    /COMP-SUBJ  Anya    smoked
      ‘Mitya doesn’t remember that Anya smoked.’

(3) Tol’ko    Mitja   pomnit,         čto        /čto-by         Anja    kurila.
      only       Mitya  remembers  COMP    /COMP-SUBJ  Anya    smoked
      ‘Only Mitya remembers that Anya smoked.’

(4) Mitja     pomnit,        čto        /čto-by         Anja    kurila?
      Mitya    remembers   COMP    /COMP-SUBJ  Anya    smoked
      ‘Does Mitya remember that Anya smoked?’

Furthermore, when both kinds of complements are available, speakers often perceive a contrast in factivity between them: e.g., (2) with the indicative complement tends to imply that Anya did in fact smoke, whereas (2) with the subjunctive clause never has such an inference. These data give rise to two questions:

1) How are polarity subjunctives licensed? What verbs can they occur with and why?
2) Why do we see a factivity alternation when both kinds of complements are possible?

Here is how I will try to address these questions:

  • I propose that clauses can be existential quantifiers, and take scope (including exceptional scope). Subjunctive clauses are weak NPIs which have to be licensed in Strawson Entailment-Reversing environments. As other weak NPIs in Russian, they are not acceptable in non-monotone environments.
  • In my previous work I argued for two distinct meanings for čto-clauses: they can either denote predicates of individuals with propositional content (Kratzer 2006, Moutlon 2015, Elliott 2017, a.o.), or predicates of exemplifying situations. I show that polarity subjunctives in Russian occur only with verbs that can take CPs that denote predicates of exemplifying situations. I argue that this restriction arises because the semantics of CPs that denote predicates of contentful individuals makes the environment non-monotone and thus prevents subjunctive from being licensed.
  • As for the factivity alternation, I argue that while sentences with subjunctive complements never have factive inferences, sentences with indicative clauses can also receive non-factive readings under certain circumstances. On my account, factive inferences are not presuppositions, but are entailments that arise when indicative clauses that are predicates of exemplifying situations take wide scope. The fact that subjunctives cannot take wide scope prevents them from getting factive inferences.