Explanatory Approaches to NPIs
Language & Logic
Week Two - 17.00-18.30 - Level: A
A goal of linguistic theory is to provide an explanation of the distributional patterns observed in natural language. A prominent example of such a pattern is the distribution of negative polarity items (NPIs), which cannot be adequately described or explained by recourse to syntax alone. The distribution of NPIs has, accordingly, received a lot of attention in linguistics since it promises to provide insights into the nature of the interaction of grammar and other cognitive domains.
An important headway towards understanding the behavior of NPIs has been made by observing, on the one hand, that they are acceptable in downward-entailing but not upward-entailing environments (Ladusaw, Fauconnier) and, on the other hand, that this pattern can be captured if we treat NPIs as weak elements that are required to strengthen the meanings of the relevant constituents in which they occur (Kadmon and Landman).
In our course we will zoom in on recent theories that operationalize this last observation, either directly or indirectly, by assuming that NPIs induce alternatives that are stronger than the NPIs and are used up by operators akin to 'even' and 'only'.
Although the theories of NPI licensing that we will study make in many cases indistinguishable predictions, for example, when it comes to the distribution of NPIs in downward-entailing environments, they do come apart when it comes to certain other environments. To design critical tests that will help us adjudicate between the theories, a comprehensive study of their conceptual and technical underpinnings will be necessary. In light of our findings, we will also explore what extra machinery can be introduced by the theories in order to achieve descriptive adequacy. In conclusion, we will discuss how the theories gel with a more general picture of cognitive architecture.