Indefinites, Dependent Plurality, and the Viability Requirement on Scalar Alternatives

Journal of Semantics 30 (1):65-102 (2013)
Spanish has two plural existential determiners, unos and algunos, which have been argued to contrast in a number of ways (Gutiérrez-Rexach 2001, 2010; Martí 2008, 2009). In this paper, we analyze an unexplored difference between these two determiners. A sentence like esos chicos tienen unas cabezas grandes (‘those kids have huge heads’) has a dependent plural reading: it can be true in a situation where those kids have exactly one huge head each. In contrast, its counterpart with algunos (esos chicos tienen algunas cabezas grandes) would be odd in that situation. Surprisingly, however, algunos seems to block dependent plural readings only when those are the only readings allowed by world knowledge: a sentence like esos chicos tienen algunas monedas viejas (‘those kids have some old coins’) can be true and felicitous in situations where the kids have exactly one coin each. We argue that the dependent plural readings of unos are cumulative readings, and we link the different behavior of unos and algunos with respect to dependent plurality to another well-known difference between them: that only algunos is a scalar item. Our investigation of the scalar component of algunos leads us to putting forth the hypothesis that scalar items require that at least one of the alternatives that they evoke be compatible with common knowledge
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