The semantics of exceptives

Linguistics and Philosophy:1-39 (forthcoming)

Abstract

This paper gives a uniform account of the meaning of generalizations with explicit exceptions that employ the prepositions “but”, “except”, and “except for”. Our theory is that exceptives depend on generalizations, which can but need not be universal, whose generality they limit, and some of whose exceptions they comment on. Every generalization intrinsically partitions its domain of applicability into regular cases, which are as it says to expect, and exceptions, which are not. A generalization’s exceptions are instances that falsify it if sufficiently prevalent. These two facts underpin the meaning of exceptives as combining a generality claim with an exception claim, giving correct truth conditions for the several ways the three exceptive prepositions are used, and significantly improving on existing semantic accounts in the literature. We support this by analyzing a wide range of examples. The analysis applies whether or not the phrase following the exceptive preposition is a DP, and whether or not the generalization is expressed with a quantifier. We further argue that these exceptive prepositions are synonymous, contrary to the widely held view that a difference in meaning explains their different syntactic distributions.

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Author's Profile

Dag Westerståhl
Stockholm University

References found in this work

Generalized Quantifiers and Natural Language.John Barwise & Robin Cooper - 1981 - Linguistics and Philosophy 4 (2):159--219.
Restrictions on Quantifier Domains.Kai von Fintel - 1994 - Dissertation, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Quantifiers in Language and Logic.Stanley Peters & Dag Westerståhl - 2006 - Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
Quantifiers in Language and Logic.Stanley Peters & Dag Westerståhl - 2006 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press UK.

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