The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 4/6 - Mike Jacques

Speaker: Mike Jacques (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, April 6th, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Approximators and Exceptives

There is a class of approximators (almost, nearly, practically) that have an anomalous distribution with quantifiers – approximator + universal quantifier is grammatical, while approximator + existential quantifier is ungrammatical. Consider the following data:

a. Almost/Nearly/Practically every student is here
b. Almost/Nearly/Practically no students are here
c. *Almost/Nearly/Practically {some/most/the/5} students are here

Previous analyses of these operators have failed to account for the distribution in (1). I argue that the key data point in trying to give a semantics for these approximators is their close relation with exceptive phrases. Consider the exceptive phrases with but in (2):

a. Every student but John is here
b. No student but John is here
c. *Some/Most/5/the students but John are here

In this talk, I argue that a precise semantics for these approximators can be given in terms of an exceptive semantics, where the exception itself is existentially quantified. I show that this semantics, coupled with pragmatic considerations of “closeness,” gives a straightforward prediction for approximators and quantifiers, which correctly accounts for the data in (1).