Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 297–324 | Cite as

Association by movement: evidence from NPI-licensing

  • Michael Wagner


‘Only’ associates with focus and licenses NPIs. This paper looks at the distributional pattern of NPIs under ‘only’ and presents evidence for the movement theory of focus association and against an in situ approach. NPIs are licensed in the ‘scope’ (or the second argument) of ‘only’, but not in the complement (or its first argument), which I will call the ‘syntactic restrictor’. While earlier approaches argued that ‘only’ licenses NPIs in the unfocused part of the sentence it occurs in except in its focus, evidence from DP-‘only’ shows that NPIs are also not licensed in the unfocused part of the syntactic restrictor. The distribution of NPIs provides a test for the size of the syntactic restrictor, and this test is applied to the case of VP-‘only’. The evidence shows that (i) the restrictor can be smaller than the entire VP and is not necessarily identical to the surface complement of ‘only’; (ii) in the case of association with a head the restrictor comprises an XP containing the head; and (iii) in cases of association into an island, the restrictor comprises the entire island. Generalizations (i)–(iii) can be captured straightforwardly by a movement approach but are incompatible with an in situ analysis. Contextual domain- restriction of the kind used in in situ approaches accounts for the appropriate semantics in cases where the semantic focus is properly contained in the syntactic restrictor of ‘only’.


Focus Focus association Only NPI-licensing Alternative semantics Contrastive negation 


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© Springer Science+Business Media 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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