Linguistics Home

Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics

Exhaustivity Everywhere
Angelika Kratzer, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Thursday, January 18, 3.30pm
Harper 140
University of Chicago

Many recent analyses of donkey conditionals, including Heim 1990 and Elbourne 2005, appeal to quantification over minimal situations in which the antecedent is true. For example, sentence (1) is said to be true just in case every minimal situation s in which a farmer buys a donkey is part of a situation in which the farmer in s pays cash for the donkey in s.

1. If a farmer buys a donkey he pays cash for it.

There are, however, donkey sentences that can't seem to be analyzed in terms of quantification over minimal situations in which their antecedents are true:

2. When snow falls around here, it takes 10 volunteers to remove it.
3. When a cat eats more than one can of Super Supper in a day, it gets sick.
4. Whenever there are between 20 and 2000 guests at a wedding, a single waiter can serve them.
5. Whenever nobody showed up, we canceled the class.

In my talk, I will first work towards a particular solution for the minimality problem with donkey sentences, and then show that the very same notion of minimality plays a role in other areas of semantics, including Davidsonian event predication, exhaustive interpretations of answers to questions, and more generally exhaustive interpretations. The talk will conclude with some reflections on interpreting experimental results from truth-value judgment tasks.

Most of the material I will be talking about can be found in an article on situations in natural language semantics I wrote for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.