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Number-neutral bare plurals and the multiplicity implicature

By E. Zweig

Abstract

Bare plurals (dogs) behave in ways that quantified plurals (some dogs) do not. For instance, while the sentence John owns dogs implies that John owns more than one dog, its negation John does not own dogs does not mean "John does not own more than one dog", but rather "John does not own a dog". A second puzzling behavior is known as the dependent plural reading; when in the scope of another plural, the 'more than one' meaning of the plural is not distributed over, but the existential force of the plural is. For example, My friends attend good schools requires that each of my friends attend one good school, not more, while at the same time being inappropriate if all my friends attend the same school. This paper shows that both these phenomena, and others, arise from the same cause. Namely, the plural noun itself does not assert 'more than one', but rather the plural denotes a predicate that is number neutral (unspecified for cardinality). The 'more than one' meaning arises as an scalar implicature, relying on the scalar relationship between the bare plural and its singular alternative, and calculated in a sub-sentential domain; namely, before existential closure of the event variable. Finally, implications of this analysis will be discussed for the analysis of the quantified noun phrases that interact with bare plurals, such as indefinite numeral DPs (three boys), and singular universals (every boy)

Topics: 1211, 3310
Year: 2009
DOI identifier: 10.1007/s10988-009-9064-3
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:10674

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