Negative and positive polarity items: Variation, licensing, and compositionality

In this chapter, we discuss the distribution and lexical properties of common varieties of negative polarity items (NPIs) and positive polarity items (PPIs). We establish first that NPIs can be licensed in negative, downward entailing, and nonveridical environments. Then we examine if the scalarity approach (originating in Kadmon and Landman 1993) can handle the attested NPI distribution and empirical variation. By positing a unitary lexical source for NPIs—widening, plus EVEN— scalarity fails to capture the fact that a significant number of NPIs are not scalar, and does not predict correctly NPI distribution in nonveridical contexts. It also misses the variation within the scalar class between broader (any) and narrow NPIs (either). Finally, scalarity predicts weaker effects (contradictions, presupposition failures) with ill-formed NPIs than is actually the case. The variation approach (Giannakidou 1998, 2001, 2007), on the other hand, posits that besides scalarity, NPIs can be created because of the presence of a variable in the NPI that cannot be interpreted deictically. This approach, by allowing more lexical sources for NPIs, is consistent with the diversity of NPIs, and extends easily to PPIs, which, as a class, appear to be non-scalar (Szabolcsi 2004 for some). Here one can again advance the argument that PPI-status is due to various sources including referentiality (some), and speaker commitment (with PPI adverbs; Ernst 2008).
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