The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

MIT Linguistics Colloquium 11/19 - Jon Nissenbaum

Speaker: Jon Nissenbaum (Syracuse University)
Title: Pseudo Pseudo-Scope
Date: Friday, November 19, 2010
Time: 3:30-5:00PM
Place: 32-155 (PLEASE NOTE ROOM)

The ability of an infinitival clause to contain a gap is often dependent on the syntactic environment. At first glance, infinitival clauses with degree operators (too, enough) seem exceptional, freely alternating between a gapped and gapless version: Bob is too mean [for me to talk to (him)]. But this alternation turns out to be dependent on the syntactic position of the degree phrase at LF, as Bernhard Schwarz and I have argued in recent work. An infinitival degree phrase with a gap must (ordinarily) be interpreted as the sister of a gradable adjective (in situ), while a gapless one must raise at LF. We argued, in other words, that the distribution of gaps in degree phrase infinitives is well-behaved after all, following from semantic compositionality.

However, the picture cannot be so simple. The gapless degree infinitive, in addition to being able to scope past an intensional verb, allows a third reading distinct from either the ordinary wide or narrow scope interpretation. This resembles familiar cases of transparent readings of DPs: interpreted in the scope of an intensional operator without being bound by that operator. But our transparent readings give rise to a conundrum: they are incompatible with gaps—the opposite of what is expected under narrow scope.

The first part of this talk will report continued joint work with Schwarz, rejecting our earlier proposal about these mysterious readings. We argue instead that the third reading is really a species of wide scope LF. I will sketch a proposal about how its peculiar truth conditions are derived. The second part of the talk will attempt to re-situate infinitival degree phrases within a more general theory of gapped and gapless infinitivals.