‌‌Cyclical change with epistemic indefinites

Wednesday 31 October 2018, 4.00PM to - 5.30pm

Speaker(s): Chiara Gianollo (University of Bologna)

Epistemic indefinites, such as e.g. English some or French quelque, signal ignorance on the part of the speaker with respect to the identity of the intended witness to the existential claim. They have the function of blocking undesired inferences on the part of the hearer (avoidance of a false claim, avoidance of an exhaustivity inference). Given their semantic characterization, they are rarely found in assertive contexts. For this reason, they can be the starting point of a cyclical process of change, known as Argument Cycle (Ladusaw 1993) or Quantifier Cycle (Willis 2011), whereby an indefinite item goes from a ‘positive’ to a more ‘negative’ meaning. In this paper I show how the cycle applies to Latin aliquis ‘some (or other)’ and to its Romance continuations (Italian alcuno, French aucun, Spanish algún, etc.). By means of this case study I reach a more precise semantic and syntactic characterization of the starting point of the cycle, and I discuss similarities and differences with respect to similar diachronic developments within Germanic (English any, Dutch enig). Moreover, I show how the further development of this cycle is influenced by pragmatic pressures that are analogous to those motivating Jespersen’s Cycle and result in the emphatic expression of negation. Emphasis, which I analyse as a form of scalar focus, has important effects both on the semantics of the indefinite item and on its DP-internal syntax, as will be shown by means of a comparative study of the Romance continuations.

Location: V/N/123

Admission: Everyone