Negative Polarity
Vincent Homer
June 2019

Negative Polarity Items (NPIs), for example the indefinites 'any', 'kanenas' (in Greek), 'quoi que ce soit' (in French), minimizers (e.g. 'lift a finger'), the adverb 'yet', etc., have a limited distribution; they appear to stand in a licensing relationship to other expressions, e.g. negation, in the same sentence. This chapter offers an overview of some of the empirical challenges and theoretical issues raised by NPIs. It retraces a line of research (initiated by Klima (1964) and Ladusaw (1979, 1980)) which started out as an investigation of the right 'licensing condition(s)' of NPIs: it sought to characterize licensing operators and used some semantic property (affectivity, downward-entailingness and variants thereof, or nonveridicality) to do so. It gradually shifted to exploring the very sources of polarity sensitivity: current theories no longer view NPIs as being in 'need' of licensing, and instead hold that their contribution to meaning leads to semantic or pragmatic deviance in certain environments, from which they are thus barred. We first present the so-called Fauconnier-Ladusaw approach to NPI licensing, and its licensing condition based on the notion of downward-entailingness. This condition proves to be both too strong and too weak, as argued by Linebarger (1980, 1987, 1991): it is too strong because NPIs can be licensed in the absence of a downward-entailing operator, and it is too weak, in view of intervention effects caused by certain scope-taking elements. We explore two ways of weakening the original condition: Giannakidou (1998, 1999, 2002, 2011 i.a.) proposes to replace downward-entailingness with another semantic property, nonveridicality; and von Fintel (1999) introduces Strawson downward-entailingness. The upshot of this discussion is that NPIs are not licensed by operators, but rather, they need to fit in certain environments. Finally, we show how the restrictions on the distribution of NPIs (specifically indefinites) can be explained by the interaction between certain features of the meaning of NPIs and semantic properties of their environment (Kadmon and Landman 1993, Lahiri 1998, Chierchia 2013).
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/004631
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: To appear in Blackwell Companion to Semantics, Lisa Matthewson, C├ęcile Meier, Hotze Rullman & Thomas Ede Zimmermann (eds.), Wiley.
keywords: npis, polarity, licensing, indefinites, downward-entailingness, alternatives, intervention, presupposition, scalar implicature, nonveridicality, semantics, syntax
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