Quantification, negation, and focus: Challenges at the Conceptual-Intentional semantic interface

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Quantification, Negation, and Focus: Challenges at the Conceptual-Intentional Semantic Interface Tista Bagchi National Institute of Science, Technology, and Development Studies (NISTADS) and the University of Delhi Since the proposal of Logical Form (LF) was put forward by Robert May in his 1977 MIT doctoral dissertation and was subsequently adopted into the overall architecture of language as conceived under Government-Binding Theory (Chomsky 1981), there has been a steady research effort to determine the nature of LF in language in light of structurally diverse languages around the world, which has ultimately contributed to the reinterpretation of LF as a Conceptual-Intentional (C-I) interface level between the computational syntactic component of the faculty of language and one or more interpretive faculties of the human mind. While this has opened up further possibilities of research in phenomena such as quantifier scope and scope interactions between negation, quantification, and focus, it has also given rise to a few real challenges to linguistic theory as well. Some of these are: (i) the split between lexical meaning – a matter supposedly belonging to the phase-wise selection of lexical arrays – and issues of semantic interpretation that arise purely from binding and scope phenomena (Mukherji 2010); (ii) partially relatedly, the level at which theta role assignment can be argued to take place, an issue that is taken up by me in Bagchi (2007); and (iii) how supposedly “pure” scopal phenomena relating to quantifiers, negation, and emphasizing expressions such as only and even (comparable to, e.g., Urdu/Hindi hii and bhii, Bangla –i and –o) also have dimensions of both focus and discourse reference. While recognizing all of these challenges, this talk aims to highlight particularly challenge (iii), both in terms of scholarship in the past and for the rich prospects for research on languages of south Asia with the semantics of quantification, negation, and focus in view. The scholarship of the past that I seek to relate this issue to is where, parallel to (and largely independently of) the research on LF that had been happening, Barwise and Cooper were developing their influential view of noun phrases as generalized quantifiers, culminating in their key 1981 article “Generalized Quantifiers and Natural Language” while, independently, McCawley, in his 1981 book Everything that Linguists have Always Wanted to Know about Logic, established through argumentation that all noun phrases semantically behave like generalized quantified expressions (further elaborated by him in the second – 1994 – revised edition of his book). I seek to demonstrate, based on limited data analysis from selected languages of south Asia, that our current understanding of quantification, negation, and focus under the Minimalist view owes something significant to the two major, but now largely marginalized, works of scholarship, and that for the way forward it is essential to adopt a more formal-semantic approach as adopted by them and also by later works such as Denis Bouchard’s (1995) The Semantics of Syntax, Mats Rooth’s work on focus (e.g., Rooth 1996, “Focus” in Shalom Lappin’s Handbook of Contemporary Semantic Theory), Heim and Kratzer’s Semantics in Generative Grammar (1998), and Yoad Winter’s (2002) Linguistic Inquiry article on semantic number, to cite just a few instances.
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