The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 9/29 - Janek Guerrini (Institut Jean Nicod, ENS)

Speaker: Janek Guerrini (Institut Jean Nicod, ENS)
Title: Genericity in similarity
Time: Thursday, September 29th, 12:30pm – 1:50pm

Abstract: In this talk, I offer an account of similarity constructions involving ‘like’, such as ‘be like’ and ‘look like’. I argue that these constructions have two key properties. (1) The first is that similarity predication amounts to predication of overlap of salient properties: I analyse ‘John is like Mary’ as ‘John shares relevant properties with Mary’. This is motivated by the fact that there seem to be grammatical devices that single out precisely what properties are relevant, e.g. ‘With respect to personality, she’s just like her father’. (2) The second key feature of similarity talk is, I argue, that it involves inherent generic quantification. This explains a range of data: first, it accounts for the reading of indefinites embedded in ‘like’ Prepositional Phrases: ‘John looks like a lawyer’ is almost equivalent to ‘John looks like a typical lawyer’. Second, it accounts for narrow-scope and almost conjunctive readings of disjunction in the scope of ‘like’: ‘Mary looks like a lawyer or a judge’ is almost equivalent (on its most accessible reading) to ‘Mary looks like a lawyer and Mary looks like a judge’.