NPI licensing, Strawson entailment, and context dependency

Journal of Semantics 16 (2):97-148 (1999)

Kai von Fintel
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Fauconnier-Ladusaw analysis of negative polarity licensing (that NPIs are licensed in the scope of downward entailing operators) continues to be the benchmark theory of negative polarity. In this paper, I consider some of the moves that are needed to maintain its basic intuition in some recalcitrant arenas: negative polarity licensing by only, adversatives, superlatives, and conditionals. We will see that one has to (i) use a notion of entailment that I call Strawson Entailment, which deals with presuppositions in a particular way, and (ii) prohibit (even natural) context change during an inference. The purpose of this paper is to investigate how to justify these constraints and to see in detail how the semantics of the problematic constructions has to work in order for these moves to successfully rescue the Fauconnier-Ladusaw analysis. I will first show the two assumptions at work in the analysis of NPI licensing by only and adversatives (building on proposals by Kadmon & Landman). I then turn to NPI licensing in the antecedent of conditionals. The standard Stalnaker-Lewis semantics for conditionals—if p, q is true iff q is true in the closest p-world(s)—might make one suspect that once one has an explanation for NPI licensing by superlatives, that would immediately deliver an explanation for NPI licensing in conditionals. But it turns out that the particular analysis that seems appropriate for NPI licensing by superlatives cannot plausibly carry over to conditionals. Instead, one does better by appealing to an alternative analysis of conditionals, one that I have elsewhere argued for on independent grounds
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DOI 10.1093/jos/16.2.97
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