Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 24, Issue 6, pp 659-735

First online:

The Meaning of Free Choice

  • Anastasia Giannakidou

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In this paper, I discuss the distribution and interpretation of free choice items (FCIs) in Greek, a language exhibiting a lexical paradigm of such items distinct from that of negative polarity items. Greek differs in this respect from English, which uniformly employs any. FCIs are grammatical only in certain contexts that can be characterized as nonveridical (Giannakidou 1998, 1999), and although they yield universal-like interpretations in certain structures, they are not, I argue, universal quantifiers. Evidence will be provided that FCIsare indefinites; the quasi-universal effect is shown to be the result of binding by an operator with universal force. Additionally, the limited distribution of FCIs in non veridical contexts can be accounted for by analyzing them as indefinites which must always be interpreted in an intensional type. The difference between ``regular'' indefinites and FCIs, therefore, is reduced to a type difference which captures the fact that only the latter exhibit limited distribution: because of their intensional type, FCIs will be grammatical only in contexts providing alternatives (worlds or situations), and nonveridical contexts do exactly this. By contrast, FCIs are excluded from veridical and episodic contexts because these provide no alternatives and hence do not satisfy the lexical semantic requirement ofFCIs. The proposed analysis is supported by data from other languages as well (Spanish, Catalan,French) and has important consequences regarding the analysis of English any. If FCIs are not universal quantifiers but indefinites, then the usual ambiguity thesis (free choice any being universal, negative polarity any an existential) can no longer be maintained, at least not as one in terms of quantificational force.