Original Paper

Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 497-544

Speaker-oriented adverbs

  • Thomas ErnstAffiliated withLinguistics Department, South College, University of Massachusetts Email author 

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This paper presents an analysis of the ordering of speaker-oriented adverbs (SpOAs) with respect to each other and negation, arguing that SpOAs are positive polarity items, and therefore normally cannot follow negation. The adverbs represent a speaker’s subjective commitment to the truth of the proposition represented by the adverb, which is incompatible with the falsity of the same proposition required by negation. This also accounts for the usual unacceptability of SpOAs in other contexts, such as questions and conditionals. The analysis extends to other contexts where SpOAs are acceptable, such as negative questions and negative counterfactual conditionals, in such a way as to contribute support for Giannakidou’s (non)veridical theory of polarity over “strengthening” theories based on scalar implicatures. It is also shown that SpOAs’ underlying semantic property of being subjective also helps predict their linear order with respect to each other.


Adverbs Polarity Nonveridicality Modality Subjectivity Speaker orientation Phrase structure