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Auteur: Jon GAJEWSKI

Another Look at NPIs in Definite Descriptions

Abstract/Résumé: The possibility of licensing negative polarity items (NPIs) in definite descriptions has been a point of contention among recent theories of NPI-licensing. This talk offers a critical comparison of recent approaches to the phenomenon as well as new sources of evidence. Lahiri 1998 and Guerzoni and Sharvit 2007, a.o., have argued that that negative polarity items like any and ever are found in plural definite descriptions but not singular definite descriptions, cf. (1) (1) a. The students who have any books on NPIs are selling them. b. *The student who has any books on NPIs is selling them. Neither of these environments appears to be downward entailing (DE), strictly speaking. Furthermore, if one adopts the perspective in von Fintel 1999 that DE-ness must be assessed under the assumption that all presuppositions are satisified, then both environments turn out to be ‘Strawson’ DE. Lahiri anticipated this problem noting that singular definite descriptions – but not plural – are also Strawson upward entailing (UE). He proposes that NPIs are not licensed in DE environments that are also UE. This perspective has been questioned by Hoeksema 2008. Hoeksema presents data from corpora to corroborate his view that NPI licensing in definite descriptions is independent of number distinctions. He argues instead NPIs are licensed in definite descriptions only if the existence presupposition is suspended. Hoeksema produces (2) which he argues lack existence presuppositions as generic statements. Note the occurrence of an NPI in a singular definite. (2) a. The students who have ever tried to grasp this theorem know how hard it is. b. The student who has ever tried to grasp this theorem knows how hard it is. The idea that the existence presuppositions interfere with licensing goes against the spirit of Strawson entailment. A question that is worth considering at this point is what exactly licenses a NPI when it occurs acceptably within a definite description: does the definite alone create a licensing environment or does the character of the environment containing the definite play a crucial role? The question matters for the viability of an account that blocks licensing with the presupposition of the definite determiner. Gajewski 2011 argues that the presuppositions of a licenser do not interfere with licensing. This paper will report results of on-going research into these matters: the acceptability of NPIs in definite descriptions and correlations between licensing and existence presuppositions and predicate type. Data will come from judgment surveys distributed to undergraduates and crowd-sourced online.