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Auteur: James MCCLOSKEY

Focus and the Grammar of Exceptives in Irish

Abstract/Résumé: Exceptive constructions raise difficult questions about compositionality and the syntax-semantics interface (Reinhart 1991). The subtype in which negation in combination with an exceptive expresses `only' is particularly challenging (Iatridou and von Fintel 2007). Languages possessing this strategy include Romance languages, Greek, Arabic, some Englishes, and Irish: (1) Il ne lit que `Le Monde'. (FRENCH) (2) I ain't got but two dollars (ENGLISH) (3) Ní ólann sé ach tae. (IRISH) NEG drinks he but tea `He drinks only tea.' We analyze the Irish construction, focusing on comparative issues and on how focus particles do their work. The following challenges arise: A. LICENSING: what is the licensing relation between negation and the exceptive? B. COMPOSITIONALITY: how do the subparts of (3) combine to yield the semantics of `only'? C. DISPLACEMENT: why, when `ach' attaches to DP, is a local rightward movement licensed? A: exceptive phrases in this use are licensed by elements other than negation (Yes/No questions, certain quantifiers, alternative questions). The licensing relation then is (one species of) NPI licensing (von Fintel and Iatridou 2007, among others). Given this, we understand why universal quantifiers which intervene between negation and the exceptive can scope over negation -- a scopal effect characteristic of NPI licensing (Linebarger 1980, Beck 1996, Guerzoni 2006). B: The phrase to which `ach' attaches is not always the semantic focus; rather mechanisms of association with focus are in play (in this Irish differs from Greek but resembles French, raising questions about how we treat such variation). We develop a compositional analysis in terms of event semantics, one which, notably, allows an understanding of examples like (4): (4) Ní raibh ach an port tosnaithe aici, nuair ... NEG was but the tune started by-her when `No sooner had she started the tune when ... ' This much, though, still does not provide an understanding of why locality restrictions constrain the relation between the licenser and the exceptive phrase. Understanding those means attending to Challenge C. C: under certain conditions, when `ach' attaches to a DP, it must extrapose to a clause-right position: (5) Ní raibh le-feiceáil den bhád ach a tosach NEG was to-be-seen of-the boat but her prow `Only the prow of the boat could be seen.' There is morphosyntactic evidence that this movement targets the right edge of vP (Nissenbaum 2000). We argue that this movement facilitates late merger of the exceptive phrase, in a position where it is sufficiently local (at the phase edge) to its licensing element. Such effects are expected if semantic composition is phase-bound (that is, there is no LF).