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Title: Number and the scope of indefinites
Authors: Ferch, Elizabeth Ann
Keywords: African Languages
Niger-Congo Languages
Atlantic-Congo Languages
Issue Date: 2009
Publisher: University of British Columbia
Abstract: This thesis examines the scopal behaviour of bare singulars and bare plurals in Shona (a Bantu language spoken in Zimbabwe). I treat these expressions as indefinites which are assigned scope via choice functions; the function variable may be existentially closed, yielding an existential or nonspecific interpretation, or it may be free, taking its value from the context and yielding a referential or specific reading. I argue that apparent scope differences between singulars and plurals can be explained by the semantics of plurality. In Shona, bare plurals appear to be scopally ambiguous with respect to a clausemate scopeless quantifier (a numeral or shoma ‘(a) few’), while bare singulars must take wide scope over scopeless quantifiers. I argue that scopeless quantifiers are intersective modifiers rather than quantifying determiners, and that the sentences with bare plurals in fact have only one reading, a cumulative reading, which subsumes the truth conditions for the apparent wide and narrow scope readings. Another modifier, ose ‘all’, patterns with scopeless quantifiers in its scopal possibilities; I claim that ose denotes an operator which returns the supremum of its complement. There is also an apparent scope difference in negative clauses and clauses with the universal quantifier oga-oga ‘every’ in object position: bare plural subjects appear to have both narrow and wide scope readings, while bare singular subjects appear to be restricted to wide scope. I argue that due to the interaction of information structure and syntactic structure, subjects in Shona must be specific, appearing to take widest scope; apparent narrow scope readings of bare plural subjects are due to nonmaximality and homogeneity. Contrary to appearances, then, bare singulars and bare plurals do not have different scope possibilities; rather, sentences which contain plurals have more general truth conditions than those which contain singulars.
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