weak noun phrases semantics and syntax n.
Skip this Video
Download Presentation

Loading in 2 Seconds...

play fullscreen
1 / 40


  • Uploaded on

WEAK NOUN PHRASES: SEMANTICS AND SYNTAX. Barbara H. Partee University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Acknowledgements. Thanks to many students in classes at RGGU and MGU for data, suggestions, and ideas about weak NPs in Russian.

I am the owner, or an agent authorized to act on behalf of the owner, of the copyrighted work described.
Download Presentation

PowerPoint Slideshow about 'WEAK NOUN PHRASES: SEMANTICS AND SYNTAX' - jeroen

Download Now An Image/Link below is provided (as is) to download presentation

Download Policy: Content on the Website is provided to you AS IS for your information and personal use and may not be sold / licensed / shared on other websites without getting consent from its author.While downloading, if for some reason you are not able to download a presentation, the publisher may have deleted the file from their server.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - E N D - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Presentation Transcript
weak noun phrases semantics and syntax


Barbara H. Partee

University of Massachusetts, Amherst


Thanks to many students in classes at RGGU and MGU for data, suggestions, and ideas about weak NPs in Russian.

Thanks to Vladimir Borschev, Elena Paducheva, Ekaterina Rakhilina, and Yakov Testelets for ongoing discussion of the Russian Genitive of Negation.

This material is based upon work supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. BCS-0418311 to B.H. Partee and V. Borschev.

  • NPs as Generalized Quantifers <<e,t>,t>
  • Determiners as functions
  • Weak NPs and existential sentences
  • Property-type interpretations of NPs
  • Intensional contexts
  • Genitive of negation hypothesis, conjecture for future research.
introduction nps as generalized quantifiers
Introduction: NPs as Generalized Quantifiers

Montague: Noun Phrases denote sets of properties.

Semantic type for NPs:

(e  t)  t

some np interpretations
Some NP interpretations
  • JohnλP[P(j)] type (e  t)  t

(the set of all of John’s properties)

  • John walksλP[P(j)] (walk) walk (j)

(function-argument application)

j: type e P, walk: type e  t

np interpretations continued
NP interpretations, continued
  • every student type (e  t)  t λPx[student(x) P(x)]

(the set of properties that every student has)

  • every student walks

λPx[student(x) P(x)] (walk)

(function-argument application)

x[student(x) walk (x)]

np interpretations continued1
NP interpretations, continued
  • a student: λPx[student(x) & P(x)]

(the set of properties at least one student has)

  • the king :

λP [x[king(x) & y( king(y) y = x) & P(x))]

(the set of properties the one and only king has)

syntactic structure
Syntactic structure






every student


  • CN(P) (Common Noun (phrase)): type e  t
  • VP: type e  t
    • Note: It is more common now to have DP where I have NP, and NP where I have CN(P).
semantics of det
Semantics of DET
  • DET: interpreted as a function of type

(e t)  ((e t)  t)

  • it applies to CN meaning, type (e  t),

to give a a generalized quantifier, a function of type (e  t)  t, which in turn applies to a VP meaning to give truth value.

  • NP: type (e  t)  t
semantic structure
Semantic structure



function(arg1) (arg2)


function (arg1)

every student

  • ||every|| (||student|| ) (||walks|| )
determiners as functions
Determiners as functions
  • ||Every||(A) = {B| x ( x  A  x  B)}.


  • ||Every|| = Q[P[x ( Q(x)  P(x) )]].
  • Some, a: takes as argument a set A and gives as result {B| A  B  }.
  • ||a || = Q[P[x ( Q(x) & P(x) )]]
so determiner properties project through whole sentence
So Determiner Properties Project through Whole Sentence


 (arg2)


function (arg1)


  • Determiners can license Negative Polarity Items inside NP and/or in “arg2”, the “rest of the sentence”.
  • Weak vs. strong determiners: crucial for “existential sentences”
weak determiners and existential sentences
“Weak” determiners and existential sentences.
  • Data: OK, normal:
    • There is a new problem.
    • There are three semantics textbooks.
    • There are many unstable governments.
  • Anomalous:
    • #There is every linguistics student.
    • #There are most democratic governments.
    • #There is the solution. (# with “existential” there)
semantic explanation milsark barwise and cooper keenan
Semantic explanation – Milsark, Barwise and Cooper, Keenan
  • Definition (Keenan 1987): A determiner D is a basic existential determiner if for all models M and all A,B  E,

D(A)(B) = D(AB)(E).

  • English test: “Det CN VP” is true iff “Det CN which VP exist(s)” is true.
  • (i) Three is an existential determiner: Three cats are in the tree iff three cats which are in the tree exist.
  • (ii) Every is not existential:
  • Suppose there are 5 cats, and 3 are in the tree. Then:

“Every cat is in the tree” is false but “Every cat which is in the tree exists” is true.

existential symmetric
Existential = Symmetric
  • Basic existential determiners = symmetric determiners.
    • One can prove, given that all determiners are conservative (Barwise and Cooper 1981), that Keenan’s basic existential determiners are exactly the symmetric determiners.
  • Symmetry: A determiner D is symmetric iff for all A, B, D(A)(B) ≡ D(B)(A).
testing symmetry
Testing symmetry
  • Weak (symmetric): Three cats are in the kitchen ≡ Three things in the kitchen are cats.

More than 5 students are women ≡ More than 5 women are students.

  • Strong (non-symmetric): Every Zhiguli is a Russian car Every Russian car is a Zhiguli.
test symmetry in russian
Test symmetry in Russian
  • Три черные кошки на кухне ≡

Три вещи на кухне черные кошки

  • триis weak
  • Все черные кошки на кухне 

Все вещи на кухне черные кошки

  • всеis strong
  • See abstract for more discussion of Russian
further related topics
Further related topics
  • Partee (1991) suggests a systematic connection between weak-strong, Heimian tripartite structures, and topic-focus structure, which is further explored in Hajicová, Partee and Sgall (1998) .
  • See also Partee (1989) on the weak-strong ambiguity of English many, fewand Babko-Malaya (1998) on the focus-sensitivity of English many and the distinction between weak много and strong многие in Russian.
cnp and np types
CNP and NP types
  • Prototypical case:
    • NPs are type e (proper names, pronouns, referring terms) or type <<e,t>,t> (quantifier phrases).
    • CNPs are type <e,t> (predicates).
  • Sometimes NPs shift to <e,t> type (predicate nominals: John is a student.)
  • Sometimes bare CNPs shift to e type (Russian singular count nouns in e-type argument positions: Молодой лингвист кончил свой доклад во-время.)
property type np interpretations
Property-type NP interpretations
  • NP types:

e: entity type

<e,t> : (extensional) predicate type

<s,<e,t>>: (intensional) property type

<<e,t>,t>: generalized quantifiers: Montague’s NP type, and the agreed-on type for essentially quantificational NPs

property type np interpretations continued
Property-type NP interpretations, continued
  • Where do predicate-type and property-type NPs appear?
  • Predicate-type <e,t>:

(i) predicate nominals: John is a student.

(ii) Some say also: There is a cat on the mat. (McNally, Landman, Kamp)

  • Property-type: recent proposals, to be discussed next.
property type np interpretations continued1
Property-type NP interpretations, continued
  • Zimmermann 1993: argues against Montague’s analysis of “intensional transitive verbs” like seek
  • Montague: object is intensional generalized quantifier, type <s,<s,<e,t>>,t>.
  • Zimmermann: object is property-type, type <s,<e,t>>.
fundamental properties of intensional contexts
Fundamental properties of intensional contexts

(11) Caroline found a unicorn.

(extensional, unambiguous)

(12) Caroline sought a unicorn.

(intensional, ambiguous)

  • Sentences with seek are ambiguous between a specific and a non-specific reading (or transparent vs. opaque reading). (11) is unambiguous, (12) is ambiguous.
  • On the opaque reading of (12), the existence of a unicorn is not entailed.
fundamental properties of intensional contexts continued
Fundamental properties of intensional contexts, continued
  • Substitution of extensionally equivalent expressions in an intensional context does not always preserve truth-value.
  • Caroline is looking for a unicorn
  • The set of unicorns = the set of 13-leaf clovers
  • Not entailed:Caroline is looking for a 13-leaf clover
the classical analysis
The classical analysis
  • Everyone agrees since Frege: the complement of seek must be intensional, not extensional.
  • Quine (1960) argued that seek should be decomposed into try to find. He argued that intensionality is (in general) the result of embedding a proposition under an intensional operator, such as the verb try.
  • Within Caroline try [Caroline find x] , there are then two places a quantifier phrase could take its scope:
  • the higher clause, giving the transparent reading
  • the lower clause, giving the opaque reading.
the classical analysis continued
The classical analysis, continued
  • Montague (1973) argued that the same semantic effect can be achieved with a simpler syntax: seek + NP, if NPs like a unicorn express Generalized Quantifiers.
  • The argument of an intensional verb gets an intensional operator “^” applied to it.
  • So Montague treats a verb like seek1 as denoting a relation between an individual and an intensional generalized quantifier.
  • The transparent reading results from “quantifying in” to an e-type argument position of seek2, a relation between two individuals.
the classical analysis continued1
The classical analysis,continued
  • For Montague, the relation between seek and try to find is captured not by decomposition but by a meaning postulate.
  • Meaning postulate:

seek’ (x, ^Q)  try’ (x, ^[Q(y find’ (x,y))]).

p roblems with t he classical analysis
Problems with the classical analysis
  • But there are problems with Quine’s and Montague’s classical analyses.
  • Among other problems, (Zimmermann 1993) points out an overgeneration problem:
  • True quantifier phrases like every doctor are normally unambiguously “transparent” after intensional transitive verbs like compare, seek, although they are ambiguous in constructions like try to find, so Montague and Quine predict ambiguity.
p roblems with t he classical analysis continued
Problems with the classical analysis, continued.
  • Simple indefinites with a, on the other hand, are indeed ambiguous with intensional verbs. Compare:
  • (a) Alain is seeking a comic book.


  • (b) Alain is seeking each comic book.

(unambiguous; lacks ambiguity of (c))

  • (c) Alain is trying to find each comic book.


zimmermann s alternative account
Zimmermann’s alternative account
  • Zimmermann: we can capture the relevant generalizations if we treat definite and indefinite arguments of intensional verbs, (but not generalized quantifiers) as properties, type <s,<e,t>>.
  • Zimmermann’s proposal is that a verb like seek1 denotes a relation between an individual and a property.
zimmermann s alternative account continued
Zimmermann’s alternative account, continued

Zimmermann: seek a unicorn:

  • seek’(^unicorn’)

( ^ is Montague’s ‘intension operator’)

  • This is a case of NP type-shifting by coercion: seek demands a property-type argument.
  • We know that indefinite NPs easily shift into <s,<e,t>> readings, as was shown for predicate nominals in (Partee 1986).
  • transparent, or de re, reading: “quantify in” to e-type argument position of seek2.
russian genitive of negation
Russian Genitive of Negation
  • Hypothesis: Wherever we see Nom/Gen and Acc/Gen alternation (both under negation and under intensional verbs), Nom or Acc represents an ordinary e-type argument position (‘referential’; and may be quantified), whereas a Gen NP is always interpreted as property-type: <e,t>, or <s,<e,t>>.
russian genitive of negation continued
Russian Genitive of Negation, continued.
  • In the case of intensional verbs like ждать, this agrees with Zimmermann’s analysis.
  • There is a similar connection to the work of van Geenhoven, who treats ‘weak’ object NPs in West Greenlandic as “incorporated to the verb”: they are not fully independent objects, but get an existential quantifier from the verb.
russian genitive of negation continued1
Russian Genitive of Negation, continued.
  • In the case of Genitive of Negation, the construction is not intensional.
  • But Russian linguists from Jakobson to Paducheva have argued that Genitive-marked NPs have reduced “referential status”, and Western linguists have generally claimed that they must be “indefinite”.
russian genitive of negation continued2
Russian Genitive of Negation, continued.
  • A shift of NP-meanings to property-type under Negation could capture those insights and intuitions.
  • But negation is not really intensional; there seem to be different kinds of ‘reduced referentiality’.
  • We have a few facts in favor, but also some doubts.
russian genitive of negation continued3
Russian Genitive of Negation, continued.
  • Evidence in favor:

(a) Петя нашел ответ.

(b)Петя не нашел ответ.

(c)Петя не нашел ответа.

  • Competing analyses of case (c):
    • Standard analysis: definite vs. indefinite -- (c) has an indefinite (weak) NP under the scope of Neg.
    • Suggested analysis: (c) has a property-type NP under the scope of Neg.
russian genitive of negation continued4
Russian Genitive of Negation, continued.
  • Evidence casting doubt on property analysis:

(a) Я не видела Машу.

(b)Я не видела Маши.

The (b) case causes problems for all “quantificational” approaches to the Genitive of Negation, unless we suggest a meaning like “any trace of Masha”.

(c)Ваня не решил все задачи.

(d)Ваня не решил всех задач.

Exs. (c-d) may differ in scope, but not in intensionality.

russian genitive of negation continued5
Russian Genitive of Negation, continued.
  • For examples with negated indefinites, the property-type analysis for Gen Neg examples looks good.
  • For examples with proper names or strong quantifiers, the property-type analysis does not look good.
  • But no uniform semantic approach looks good for all cases (yet).
  • This issue is still under exploration – more coming in future years.