Journal of Semantics 14 (1):1-56 (1997)

Kai von Fintel
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The compositional semantics of sentences like Only mammals give live birth and The flag flies only if the Queen is home is a tough problem. Evidence is presented to show that only here is modifying an underlying proposition (its ‘prejacent’). After discussing the semantics of only, the question of the proper interpretation of the prejacent is explored. It would be nice if the prejacent could be analyzed as having existential quantificational force. But that is difficult to maintain, since the prejacent structures when encountered on their own are naturally read as having a lawlike flavor, which in many analyses is attributed to the semantics of implicit operators alleged to be present in them. In the end, an analysis is presented which attributes some very particular properties to these operators and thereby succeeds in providing the target sentences with intuitively adequate interpretations. These complex constructions can therefore be used as a probe into the nature of implicit quantification in natural language
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DOI 10.1093/jos/14.1.1
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