David-Etienne Bouchard’s Ph.D. Oral Defense – Thursday 11/29

David-Etienne Bouchard
Department of Linguistics
McGill University
Thursday, November 29th, 2012
Leacock Building Rm. 738
3:00 pm
Long-distance degree quantification and the grammar of subjectivity
This thesis is concerned with two little known constructions at the syntax-semantics interface, namely a type of apparent long-distance degree quantification in Québec French called Intensification At a Distance (IAD), and a class of verbs that I simply refer to as opinion verbs and which include English to find and French trouver, for example.
I examine two competing analyses of IAD, namely one where the surface word order is derived by overt DegP movement and one where it is base-generated. The former approach is a natural extension of the view in degree semantics that degree operators need a QR-type of operation to be interpretable. If it is right, then nothing needs to be added to the semantic component, and IAD can be treated as a distributional argument in favour of this semantics. Furthermore, it can be used to examine various proposals in this field, since if this hypothesis is right, then we can read the scope of degree operators right off surface syntax in this dialect.
While this hypothesis is very successful at providing an interpretation to IAD sentences, it makes a number of incorrect syntactic predictions. I thus turn to an in situ analysis of IAD, which shares almost none of the syntactic problems of the movement analysis, but requires an entirely novel semantics to be interpretable. I thus suggest an interpretive mechanism for IAD sentences whereby the degree operator does not relate to any gradable predicate lower in the structure, but rather quantifies over degrees of appropriateness of its entire complement, in a manner very similar to how Morzycki (2011) analyses metalinguistic comparatives. The scale of the lower gradable adjective only comes to play a role in the pragmatics. I tentatively conclude in favour of the in situ analysis.
Concerning opinion verbs, I present some novel data that show that sentences in find contain much semantic material that is presupposed, and I propose to formalize this in the form of what I call the Subjective Contingency Presupposition. This approach gives us an adequate way of describing what is asserted and what is presupposed in such sentences, including in many problematic cases involving negation, and also gives us for free the fact that such verbs can only take subjective complements.
I also suggest that a careful examination of the syntactic and semantic properties of their complement clause argues in favour of Lasersohn (2005)’s proposal that subjectivity in grammar is represented by a judge index on the interpretation function, rather than by null pronouns in the syntax. This is exactly contrary to Saebø (2009)’s conclusions, who recently proposed one of the first analyses of the verb find. This conclusion follows from the way that various kinds of subjective and non-subjective constituents may be conjoined under find.
followed by a reception in the lounge
All are welcome!

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