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Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 739–760 | Cite as

On the syntax of English minimizers

  • Susagna TubauEmail author
Article

Abstract

The syntactic behaviour of English minimizers such as (not) a/one word, (not) a/one bit and (not) sleep a/one wink is puzzling: while they can behave as polarity items (PIs) in non-negative and negative contexts, they become negative quantifiers (NQs) when merged with a negation in negative contexts. Unlike previous accounts, where emphasis is put mainly on highlighting the similarity of minimizers to any-PIs and on supporting the contribution of an even-reading, I integrate the peculiar behaviour of minimizers in English within an analysis of negative indefinites as existential quantifiers that can structurally associate with negation in different ways. I claim that English minimizers contain three basic ingredients: a Numeral Phrase, a Focus particle and, in negative contexts, a Negative Phrase, not. The presence of a Focus particle even in the structure of minimizers plus the flexible merging possibilities of not with respect to the other two components of the minimizer result in their NQ-like behaviour, which can be now fully integrated into a theory of negative indefinites as syntactic objects that are compositionally built.

Keywords

Minimizers English Negative quantifiers Polarity items Focus particle Negation 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This research has been funded by a research grant awarded by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (FFI2011-23356), and by a grant awarded by the Generalitat de Catalunya to the Centre de Lingüística Teòrica (2014SGR1013). I thank Gemma Rigau, Mercè Coll and M. Teresa Espinal, as well as the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of the paper.

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departament de Filologia Anglesa i de Germanística, Facultat de Filosofia i Lletres (Edifici B)Universitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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