This article surveys the state of the art in the ﬁeld of semantic universals. We examine potential semantic universals in three areas: (i) the lexicon, (ii) semantic “glue” (functional morphemes and composition principles), and (iii) pragmatics. At the level of the lexicon, we ﬁnd remarkably few convincing semantic universals. At the level of functional morphemes and composition principles, we discuss a number of promising constraints, most of which require further empirical testing and/or reﬁnement. In the realm of pragmatics, we predict (...) that Gricean mechanisms are universal, but suggest that the precise nature of presuppositions may be subject to cross-linguistic variation. Finally, we follow E.L. Keenan in concluding that the overarching universal of effability or translatability between languages cannot be upheld in its strongest form. A recurring theme throughout this survey is how much work still remains to be done in the relatively young ﬁeld of cross-linguistic formal semantics. (shrink)
This paper argues, on the basis of data from St'át'imcets (Lillooet Salish), for a theory of wide-scope indefinites which is similar, though not identical, to that proposed by Kratzer (1998). I show that a subset of S'át'imcets indefinites takes obligatory wide scope with respect to if-clauses, negation, and modals, and is unable to be distributed over by quantificational phrases. These wide-scope effects cannot be accounted for by movement, but require an analysis involving choice functions (Reinhart 1995, 1997). However, Reinhart's particular (...) choice function analysis is unable to account for the St'át'imcets data. A Kratzer-style theory, on the other hand, accounts not only for the wide-scope effects, but also for the emergence of narrower-than-widest interpretations for indefinites which contain bound variables. I depart from Kratzer's analysis in claiming that St'át'imcets choice function indefinites are not 'specific'; the discourse context does not provide a value for the function variable. Therefore, I utilize wide- scope existential closure over choice functions rather than leaving the variables free. However, my analysis provides support for Kratzer's claim that English indefinites are ambiguous between a choice function interpretation and a quantificational interpretation, since St'át'imcets determiners overtly encode the English ambiguity. I conclude by suggesting that the proposed analysis of wide-scope indefinites may be universally valid. (shrink)
The standard analysis of quantification says that determiner quantifiers (such as every) take an NP predicate and create a generalized quantifier. The goal of this paper is to subject these beliefs to crosslinguistic scrutiny. I begin by showing that in St'á'imcets (Lillooet Salish), quantifiers always require sisters of argumental type, and the creation of a generalized quantifier from an NP predicate always proceeds in two steps rather than one. I then explicitly adopt the strong null hypothesis that the denotations of (...) quantifiers should be crosslinguistically uniform. Since the Salish data cannot be captured by the usual analysis of English, I pursue the idea that English is reducible to the Salish pattern. Reanalysis of many English constructions is required. I argue that the reanalysis has advantages over the standard analysis for partitives, as well as for non-partitive all- and most-phrases, which I analyze as containing bare plurals of argumental type. Even where the new analysis faces some challenges (for example, with every), the attempt still leads to fruitful results. It forces us to view familiar constructions in a new light, and to redefine, I believe correctly, which quantificational constructions are ‘basic’ and which stand in need of further explanation. (shrink)
This paper contributes to the debate about ‘tenseless languages’ by defending a tensed analysis of a superficially tenseless language. The language investigated is St’át’imcets (Lillooet Salish). I argue that although St’át’imcets lacks overt tense morphology, every finite clause in the language possesses a phonologically covert tense morpheme; this tense morpheme restricts the reference time to being non-future. Future interpretations, as well as ‘past future’ would-readings, are obtained by the combination of covert tense with an operator analogous to Abusch’s (1985) WOLL. (...) I offer St’át’imcets-internal evidence (of a kind not previously adduced) that the WOLL-like operator is modal in nature. It follows from the analysis presented here that there are only two (probably related) differences between St’át’imcets and English in the area of tense. The first is that St’át’imcets lacks tense morphemes which are pronounced. The second is that the St’át’imcets tense morpheme is semantically underspecified compared to English ones. In each of these respects, the St’át’imcets tense morpheme displays similar properties to pronouns, which may be covert and which may fail to distinguish person, number or gender. Along the way, I point out several striking and subtle similarities in the interpretive possibilities of St’át’imcets and English. I suggest that these similarities may reveal non-accidental properties of tense systems in natural language. I conclude with discussion of the implications of the analysis for cross-linguistic variation, learnability and the possible existence of tenseless languages. (shrink)
Modals in St’át’imcets (Lillooet Salish) show two differences from their counterparts in English. First, they have variable quantificational force, systematically allowing both possibility and necessity interpretations; and second, they lexically restrict the conversational background, distinguishing for example between deontic and (several kinds of) epistemic modality. We provide an analysis of the St’át’imcets modals according to which they are akin to specific indefinites in the nominal domain. They introduce choice function variables which select a subset of the accessible worlds. Following Klinedinst, (...) we assume distributivity over the resulting set of worlds. St’át’imcets modals thus receive a uniform interpretation as (distributive) pluralities. The appearance of variability in modal force arises because the choice function can select a larger or smaller subset of accessible worlds. Finally, we discuss the implications of our analysis for the investigation of modal systems in other languages. (shrink)
This volume brings together papers that discuss methodological issues in conducting elicitation on semantic topics in a fieldwork situation. Each author pairs explicit methodological proposals with concrete examples of their use in the field. The range of languages discussed span 11 language families and four continents.