The Relevance of Polarity for the Online Interpretation of Scalar Terms

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The Relevance of Polarity for the Online Interpretation of Scalar Terms

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Title: The Relevance of Polarity for the Online Interpretation of Scalar Terms
Author: Snedeker, Jesse; Panizza, Daniele; Chierchia, Gennaro; Huang, Yi Ting

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Citation: Panizza, Daniele, Gennaro Chierchia, Yi Ting Huang, and Jesse Snedeker. 2011. Relevance of polarity for the online interpretation of scalar terms. In Front matter: Proceedings of the 19th Semantics and Linguistic Theory Conference, held April 3-5, 2009 at the Ohio State University, ed. Ed Cormany, Satoshi Ito, and David Lutz, 360–378. Ithaca: Cornell University Department of Linguistics.
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Abstract: The interpretation of scalar terms (like, e.g., some vs. all; the numerals) has been at the center of much theoretical debate. Recently, this debate has focused on whether Scalar Implicature (SI) computation is grammatically or post grammatically driven (cf., e.g., Russell, 2006 vs. Chierchia, Fox and Spector, 2008 and references therein). In the present work, we address these issues through experimental means arguing, specifically, for two theses:
Thesis 1: The interpretation of both numerals and determiners like some/all are systematically affected by the polarity (Downward monotone or DE vs. Upward monotone or UE) of the local context in which they are embedded.
Thesis 2: Numerals and Determiners differ in how the ‘exact’ interpretation comes about: for numerals such interpretation is much faster.
Thesis 1, if true, provides evidence against the thesis that scalar items are lexically ambiguous (for no lexical ambiguity is polarity sensitive in such a way) and in favor of the view that the ‘exact’ vs. the ‘at least’ interpretation of both types of scalar items is an implicature. Thesis 2, if true, shows that the way in which the ‘exact’ interpretation comes about for numerals vs. determiners is partly similar and partly different. This can be construed as an argument against the thesis that these elements are ‘underspecified’ in similar ways (cf., e.g., Musolino, 2003).
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