Projects in Previous Years

2nd Semester 2011/12: Negative Polarity Items of the 'Much' Class

Stephanie Solt
If you are interested in this project, please contact Stephanie by email.
Negative polarity items (NPIs)--expressions that are restricted to occurring in the scope of negation or other downward entailing contexts--have been the subject of extensive research in semantics and syntax. But much of the work from a formal semantic perspective has focused on a few specific items, such as English any, and more generally on so-called `minimizers' such as (drink) a drop, (budge) an inch, (lift) a finger, etc. In this project we'll investigate a lesser studied class of NPIs, exemplified by the quantifier much:
  1. *?John has much money.
  2. John doesn't have much money.
NPIs of this sort are characterized by two interesting patterns: (i) In contrast to minimizers, in negated sentences they express propositions that are weaker than potential alternatives. For example, while John didn't drink a drop is a stronger statement than alternatives such as John didn't drink a glass/a bottle/a lot, John doesn't have much money is weaker than possible alternatives such as John doesn't have any money/a penny/etc. The consequence is that analyses developed for minimizer NPIs do not readily extend to these items. (ii) Side by side with their apparent NPI uses, they have non-NPI uses. For example, in contrast to the ill-formed (1), John has much more money than Fred is perfectly acceptable. In addition to much, other items that seem to fall in this class include exactly (Red wine isn't/*is exactly healthy), long (John hasn't/*has lived here long), all that, and perhaps others.

The goal of this project is to take some steps towards a formal semantic analysis of NPIs of the much class. The project will include both an empirical component--collecting data that will help determine what the relevant facts are--and a theoretical component--developing a principled account of the facts. While the specific focus will be on the interests and backgrounds of participating students, some questions we might investigate include:

  • What items belong in this class? Is it a natural class at all?
  • What is their distribution as NPIs? Focusing on the quantifier much, on which of its uses is it restricted to negative contexts? Is it fair to call it an NPI at all?
  • How did the NPI use develop diachronically?
  • Can the restriction of these items to negative/DE contexts be accounted for in terms of their lexical semantics? Can existing theories of NPIs be extended to them?
  • What is the relationship between their NPI and non-NPI uses? Is a unified analysis of both possible?
(It should be apparent that we won't be able to do all of this!). Students will participate by reading and presenting relevant literature, and by analyzing corpus data. The final output will be a jointly-written paper summarizing our findings.
Preliminary timetable:
  • Week 1: Introduction to NPIs and the much class; review of existing literature on these items
  • Week 2: Corpus study of much
  • Week 3: Finish corpus study; read/discuss previous analyses of NPIs for potential extension to our data
  • Week 4: Evaluation of results and preparation of final paper
Some of the works that will serve as our starting point include:
  1. Israel, M. (1996). Polarity sensitivity as lexical semantics. Linguistics and Philosophy 19, 619-666. (Typology of NPIs that delineates the class we'll investigate.)
  2. Kadmon, N. and Landman, F. (1993). Any. Linguistics and Philosophy 16, 353-422. (Highly influential work that develops a unified account of NPI and free choice any.)
  3. Krifka, M. (1995). The semantics and pragmatics of polarity items. Linguistic Analysis 25, 209-257. (Another influential account, focusing however on minimizers.)
  4. Solt, S. (2010). Much support and more. In M. Aloni, H. Bastiaanse, T. de Jager and K. Schulz (eds.), Amsterdam Colloquium 2009, LNAI 6042, 446-455. Berlin: Springer Verlag. (Fairly preliminary observations on NPI vs. non-NPI much.)