Approximating the limit: the interaction between quasi 'almost' and some temporal connectives in Italian

Linguistics and Philosophy 33 (2):51 - 115 (2010)
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This paper focuses on the interpretation of the Italian approximative adverb quasi 'almost' by primarily looking at cases in which it modifies temporal connectives, a domain which, to our knowledge, has been largely unexplored thus far. Consideration of this domain supports the need for a scalar account of the semantics of quasi (close in spirit to Hitzeman's semantic analysis of almost, in: Canakis et al. (eds) Papers from the 28th regional meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, 1992). When paired with suitable analyses of temporal connectives, such an account can provide a simple explanation of the patterns of implication that are observed when quasi modifies locational (e. g. quando 'when'), directional (e. g. fino 'until' and da 'since'), and event-sequencing temporal connectives (e. g. prima 'before' and dopo ' after'). A challenging empirical phenomenon that is observed is a contrast between the modification of fino and da by quasi, on the one hand, and the modification of prima and dopo by the same adverb, on the other. While quasi fino and quasi da behave symmetrically, a puzzling asymmetry is observed between quasi prima and quasi dopo. To explain the asymmetry, we propose an analysis of prima and dopo on which the former has the meaning of the temporal comparative più presto 'earlier', while the latter is seen as an atomic predicate denoting temporal succession between events (Del Prete, Nat Lang Semantics 16: 157-203, 2008). We show that the same pattern of implication observed for quasi prima is attested when quasi modifies overt comparatives, and propose a pragmatic analysis of this pattern that uniformly applies to both cases, thus providing new evidence for the claim that prima is underlyingly a comparative. A major point of this paper is a discussion of the notion of scale which is relevant for the semantics of quasi', in particular, we show that the notion of Horn (entailment-based) scale is not well-suited for handling modification of temporal connectives, and that a more general notion of scale is required in order to provide a uniform analysis of quasi as a cross-categorial modifier
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