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The Puzzle



B(are) P(lural)s in English can have both generic and existential readings (1) Curious people crowded around the site of the accident. (i.e., some curious people) (2) Curious people like to travel a lot. (all, or nearly all, curious people; curious people in general). [examples from Carlson 1999] [Irene: But given the diversity of readings that BPs can have (see previous handout) does it make sense to assume this split between existential and generic readings? In class, we discussed the following as a potential test that would tease the two uses apart: On their existential reading, BPs can be replaced by some NP without a noticeable change of meaning; on their generic reading, they can’t. But what about the following example? (Danny): I am having brunch, and I see some Americans next to me eating blood sausage. Is it felicitous for me to say Americans eat blood sausage (now)? And isn’t that sentence true just because some Americans eat blood sausage? Here’s what Carlson had to say about the distinction between generic and existential uses: “As we are assuming there to be an intuitive split between the generic and existential uses of the bare plural for the moment, a word is in order concerning the recognition of each. To a large extent, I will be relying upon the sympathy of the reader to make the distinction. However, I am in a position to offer some crude rules of thumb for distinguishing the two. It bears emphasis that this distinction is made at this time for investigative purposes only, and we leave open for now exactly what theoretical significance to attach to this split ” (p. 55-56) First rule of thumb: Substitution for a ‘higher-order ’ bare plural works for existential uses of BPs, but not for generic uses. (1) Dogs are her

Topics: Second rule of thumb
Year: 2007
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