Groups versus covers revisited: Structured pluralities and symmetric readings

Abstract

A number of natural language constructions seem to provide access to structured pluralities — that is, pluralities of pluralities. A body of semantic work has debated how to model this additional structure and the extent to which it depends on pragmatics. In this article, after controlling for the distinction between ambiguity and underspecification, we present new data showing that structured pluralities are sometimes but not always available, depending on the form of the plural noun phrase used. We show that these results challenge two longstanding theories of plurality. We sketch two different ways to account for these data and describe some of the diverging predictions they make.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    In Landman’s full system, a further ↑ operator would apply outside this structure, allowing the noun phrase to be the subject of the collective predicate.

  2. 2.

    Note that this test holds equally well for structural ambiguity and pronominal ambiguity (as in Schwarzschild’s analysis). In sentence (i), for example, the pronoun may have either Bill or John as an antecedent, but whichever it is, it must be the same individual on both Monday and Tuesday.

    1. (i)

      On Monday, Bill told John that he would win, but not on Tuesday.

  3. 3.

    Existential raising plays a less trivial role in cases with indefinites, where “min” does not return a singleton set, as in The students from two countries hit each other.

  4. 4.

    For a recent overview discussing other analyses of cumulativity, see Champollion (2020).

  5. 5.

    On the other hand, the analysis in §4.1 does not need to subscribe to other analytical assumptions of Winter (2000). Specifically, it is not committed to the availability of anaphoric dependencies everywhere — only to the fact that anaphoric dependencies may be generated by certain scope-taking operations.

  6. 6.

    Such a mechanism could potentially account for the rich variety of covers, sometimes visually presented, argued to be available by Schwarzschild (1996) — with the caveat that proper controls should be taken to ensure that these correspond to true readings of the sentences in question.

  7. 7.

    Bar-Lev (2019) argues that the ability to access such an underspecified reading varies across predicates, depending on the homogeneity of the predicate in question (i.e., whether the plural predication has the inference that all subpluralities behave identically with respect to the predicate). In our own results on symmetric readings, homogeneity plays no role, for two reasons: (i) all the predicates tested are homogeneous, and (ii) the target reading involves a collective predicate acting on a plurality of just two entities (themselves groups or pluralities), so there are no other proper parts of this plurality to which the predicate could apply.

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Correspondence to Brian Buccola.

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Authors are listed in alphabetical order. This work benefited from discussion at the Workshop on Cross-Linguistic Semantics of Reciprocals in Utrecht. We would like to thank in particular Denis Paperno, Filipe Hisao Kobayashi, and Louise McNally, as well as our anonymous referees. The research leading to these results received support from ERC FP7 grant 313610 (SemExp), ERC H2020 grant 788077 (Orisem), and ANR-17-EURE-0017 (FrontCog).

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Buccola, B., Kuhn, J. & Nicolas, D. Groups versus covers revisited: Structured pluralities and symmetric readings. Nat Lang Semantics (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11050-021-09179-x

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Keywords

  • Ambiguity
  • Covers
  • Experimental linguistics
  • Groups
  • Inverse linking
  • Plural dynamic semantics
  • Plurals
  • Reciprocity
  • Underspecification