Northwestern University

Fri 3:30 PM

Colloquium: Scott Grimm (University of Rochester) Topic: Plurality and Referentiality

When: Friday, March 31, 2017
3:30 PM - 5:30 PM  

Where: Chambers Hall, Lower Level Classroom, 600 Foster St, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Nayoun Kim  

Group: Linguistics Department

Category: Academic

More Info


Certain uses of the plural form of indefinite nouns, such as in (1), have long been puzzling because they appear to include reference to singular entities.

(1) a. Q: Do you have children?
A: Yes, I have one.
b. Ed didn't see dogs. (False if Ed saw one dog)

Based on such examples, many researchers have argued that plural indefinite nouns are actually "inclusive", designating 'one or more' (including singular entities), rather than "exclusive", designating 'more than one' (excluding singular entities). Sauerland et al. (2005), among others, relate the inclusive reading to downward-entailing environments (such as negation or the antecedent of conditionals), claiming number ``marking on indefinites in a downward entailing environment does not affect truth conditions''.

This talk presents experimental and empirical evidence that the inclusive readings (i) cannot be causally related to downward-entailing environments, as this association both under- and over-generates and (ii) cannot be associated with indefinites in general, but only with non-specific/non-referential indefinites. Instead, the experimental results indicate that the key factor is whether the indefinite can be construed as non-referential/generic, which favors inclusive readings, or referential, which resists them. The contexts which permit inclusive readings, e.g. negation and interrogatives, are shown to be just those which may in general block referential commitment. I argue this lack of referential commitment promotes inclusive plural readings. I then discuss the typological prediction of this account, namely that inclusive plural readings should only occur in languages for which the bare plural has non-referential/generic uses, a claim which receives support from languages such as Armenian.

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