LingLang Lunch (10/21/2015): Polly Jacobson (Brown University)

You think there’s Silent Linguistic Material, but I don’t: Neg Raising meets Ellipsis

The first part of this talk will set the stage with material that some but hopefully not all of the LingLangLunchers have heard. This background part is my ‘take’ on the existence of so‐called Silent Linguistic Material (SLM) in so‐called ‘ellipsis’ constructions (the relevant one here is VP Ellipsis). The issue of whether or not there is “SLM” is illustrated by the following question: since the sentence in (1a) can easily be understood as (1b) (and, without additional context, this is pretty much the only interpretation, is (1a) actually at some level the same as (1), where ski that course in 4 minutes is deleted or silenced?

(1) a. Bode can ski that course in 4 minutes, and Lindsay can too.
     b. Bode can ski that course in 4 minutes and Linday can ski that course in 4
          minutes too.

There is a wealth of literature going back decades arguing that this is so, and within the SLM approach there are two main competing hypotheses: (a) that ski that course in 4 minutes in (a) is silenced on the basis of formal identity with the VP in the first conjunct, or (b) that it is silenced on the basis of semantic identity with (the meaning of) the first VP. I begin this talk with reasons to doubt the conventional wisdom (in either of its incarnations); there is particularly strong evidence against the formal identity view. I will also (depending on the time) answer some of the traditional arguments for the SLM view, particularly a couple based on how (b) is understood (which is a very old argument) and on new arguments based on processing considerations.

I then turn to new material here (tentative and in progress) centering on the interaction of Neg Raising and VP Ellipsis. Neg Raising is the phenomenon by which (2a) is easily understood as (2b) where the not is in the lower clause:

(2) a. Bernie doesn’t think we should be talking about the e‐mails.
      b. Bernie thinks we shouldn’t be talking about the e‐mails.

One view is that there is a syntactic process moving a negation from lower to higher clause. The alternative view is that the negation in (2) semantically is in the higher clause, and there is a pragmatic strengthening. I will be concerned with cases like (3) (and more elaborated versions):

(3) Bernie doesn’t think we should be talking about the e‐mails, and neither does

The full argument requires more elaborated examples, but the bottom line will be that if there is syntactic Neg Raising, then the conditions for SLM must be formal identity. But there is good reason to reject that view. And so, turning this around: assuming there is no SLM (especially no SLM sanctioned by formal identity) then there cannot be Neg Raising, and some version of the pragmatic strengthening story must be correct.

(NOTE: This is in preparation for an upcoming talk at a workshop honoring Laurence Horn; he has done extensive work on Neg Raising, arguing against the syntactic solution.)