Focused NPIs in Statements and Questions
- Issue Date
- Oxford University Press
- Journal of Semantics
- Negative Polarity Items (NPIs) with emphatic prosody such as ANY or EVER, and minimizers such as lift a finger or sleep a wink are known to generate particular contextual inferences that are absent in the case of non-emphatic NPIs such as unstressed any or ever. It remains an open question, however, what the exact status of these inferences is and how they come about. In this paper, we analyze these cases as NPIs bearing focus, and examine the interaction between focus semantics and the lexical semantics of NPIs across statements and questions. In the process, we refine and expand the empirical landscape by demonstrating that focused NPIs give rise to a variety of apparently heterogeneous contextual inferences, including domain widening in statements and inferences of negative bias in questions. These inferences are further shown to be modulated in subtle ways depending on the specific clause-type in which the NPI occurs (e.g., polar questions vs. wh-questions) and the type of emphatic NPI involved (e.g., ANY vs. lift a finger). Building on these empirical observations, we propose a unified account of NPIs which posits a single core semantic operator, even, across both focused and unfocused NPIs. What plays a central role in our account is the additive component of even, which we formulate in such a way that it applies uniformly across statements and questions. This additive component of even, intuitively paraphrased as the implication that all salient focus alternatives of the prejacent of the operator must be settled in the doxastic state of the speaker, is selectively activated depending on the presence of focus alternatives, and is shown to be able to derive all the observed contextual inferences stemming from focused NPIs, both in statements and in questions.
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