Licensing NPIs: Some Negative (and Positive) Results

  • Laurence R. HornEmail author
Part of the Language, Cognition, and Mind book series (LCAM, volume 1)


Leading formal approaches to the “licensor question” for NPIs, invoking properties of downward entailment and nonveridicality, cannot do justice to the full empirical domain. The inadequacy of entailment- and implicature-based theories emerges once we extend the database to cases in which NPIs are awkward or ill-formed despite the availability of a discourse-salient but non-asserted negative proposition, indicating that NPI licensing often depends not on what is entailed or what is implicated but on what is asserted or at issue, and more generally on the speaker’s intended illocutionary point of the utterance. In cases involving sarcasm, polar questions, or pseudo-conditionals, an NPI can only occur after the intended force has been overtly signaled. Thus licensing reflects not only what is at issue but the speaker’s expectations about the hearer’s dynamically constructed discourse model.


Assertive (at-issue) content Clefts Downward entailment Flaubert licensing Hyponegation Implicature (Non-)veridicality Sarcasm Pseudo-conditionals Rescuing 



Thanks to Barbara Abbott, Patricia Amaral, Jay Atlas, Johan Brandtler, Chris Barker, Liz Camp, Ashwini Deo, Kai von Fintel, Anastasia Giannakidou, Chris Gunlogson, Stephanie Harves, Elena Herburger, Jack Hoeksema, Sabine Iatridou, Michael Israel, Sarah Murray, Paul Postal, Chris Potts, William Salmon, Anna Szabolcsi, and those commenting on presentations of related material at Stanford, CUNY, Rutgers, Harvard, Yale, Santa Cruz, Lund, Göteborg, Brussels, Utrecht, and of course Geneva for feedback and suggestions, too many of which I have obstinately ignored. I am also indebted to the late Victor Sánchez Valencia for calling my attention to the relevant medieval manuscripts and to Pierre Larrivée and an anonymous referee for valuable comments on an earlier draft.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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