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Weak islands and an algebraic semantics for scope taking

Abstract

Modifying the descriptive and theoretical generalizations of Relativized Minimality, we argue that a significant subset of weak island violations arise when an extracted phrase should scope over some intervener but is unable to. Harmless interveners seem harmless because they can support an alternative reading. This paper focuses on why certain wh-phrases are poor wide scope takers, and offers an algebraic perspective on scope interaction. Each scopal element SE is associated with certain operations (e.g., not with complements). When a wh-phrase scopes over some SE, the operations associated with that SE are performed in its denotation domain. The requisite operations may or may not be available in a domain, however. We present an empirical analysis of a variety of wh-phrases. It is argued that the wh-phrases that escape all weak islands (i.e., can scope over any intervener) are those that range over individuals, the reason being that all Boolean operations are defined for their domain. Collectives, manners, amounts, numbers, etc. all denote in domains with fewer operations and are thus selectively sensitive to scopal interveners—a “semantic relativized minimality effect”.

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Parts of this paper appeared in Szabolcsi (1992b). We have had extremely helpful discussions with many colleagues, at UCLA and elsewhere, over the past two years. We wish to thank them all, especially F. Beghelli, D. Ben-Shalom, C. Dobrovie-Sorin, I. Heim, J. Higginbotham, J. Hoeksema, E. Engdahl, M. Krifka, L. Moritz, D. Oehrle, B. Partee, D. Pesetsky, B. Schein, D. Sportiche, E. Stabler, T. Stowell, and H. de Swart, and two anonymous NALS reviewers of an earlier version of this paper entitled ‘Weak Islands and Algebraic Semantics’.

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Szabolcsi, A., Zwarts, F. Weak islands and an algebraic semantics for scope taking. Nat Lang Seman 1, 235–284 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00263545

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Keywords

  • Empirical Analysis
  • Minimality Effect
  • Boolean Operation
  • Wide Scope
  • Relativize Minimality