Donkeys under discussion

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Lucas Champollion
Dylan Bumford
Robert Henderson

Abstract

Donkey sentences have existential and universal readings, but they are not often perceived as ambiguous. We extend the pragmatic theory of non-maximality in plural definites by Križ (2016) to explain how hearers use Questions under Discussion to fix the interpretation of donkey sentences in context. We propose that the denotations of such sentences involve truth-value gaps — in certain scenarios the sentences are neither true nor false — and demonstrate that Križ’s pragmatic theory fills these gaps to generate the standard judgments of the literature. Building on Muskens’s (1996) Compositional Discourse Representation Theory and on ideas from supervaluation semantics, we define a general schema for dynamic quantification that delivers the required truth-value gaps. Given the independently motivated pragmatic theory of Križ 2016, we argue that mixed readings of donkey sentences require neither plural information states, contra Brasoveanu 2008, 2010, nor error states, contra Champollion 2016, nor singular donkey pronouns with plural referents, contra Krifka 1996, Yoon 1996. We also show that the pragmatic account improves over alternatives like Kanazawa 1994 that attribute the readings of donkey sentences to the monotonicity properties of the embedding quantifier.

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Author Biographies

Lucas Champollion, New York University

Department of Linguistics, Associate Professor

Dylan Bumford, UCLA

Department of Linguistics, Assistant Professor

Robert Henderson, University of Arizona

Department of Linguistics, Assistant Professor