The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling Lunch 3/31 - Naomi Francis

Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Title: Scope in negative inversion constructions: Evidence from positive polarity item modals
Time: Thursday, March 31th, 12:30-1:45 pm
Place: 32-D461

Negative inversion is a construction that involves the preposing of a negative expression and obligatory subject-auxiliary inversion (e.g. `Under no circumstances are you to buy another pet giraffe’). Collins and Postal (2014) claim that the preposed negative element takes scope over everything else in the clause. I show that, while the negative expression does take scope over quantificational DPs, deontic modals should, must, and to be to, which have been argued to be positive polarity items (PPIs) (Iatridou & Zeijlstra 2013), are able to outscope it. I argue that this can be explained if PPI modals undergo covert movement to escape environments where they are not licensed, as proposed by Iatridou and Zeijlstra (2013) and Homer (2015). This picture is complicated by the fact that epistemic PPI modals behave differently from their deontic counterparts in negative inversion constructions. Furthermore, there is interspeaker variation in the acceptability of epistemic PPI modals in these constructions; at least two patterns of data are attested. I propose that these facts can be captured if we allow certain aspects of the Epistemic Containment Principle (von Fintel & Iatridou 2003) to vary across speakers.