Keep only strong

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Luis Alonso-Ovalle
Aron Hirsch


While Horn (1969) proposed that [[only]](p) presupposes that the prejacent p is true, von Fintel & Iatridou (2007) showed that the expected prejacent inference is not observed when a necessity modal occurs in the scope of only: [[only]](□p) may convey that p is possible, rather than necessary. What is the mechanism behind the surprisingly weak inference? The approach in von Fintel & Iatridou 2007 is to revise the analysis of only itself to weaken its contribution. In this paper, however, we argue that Horn’s only is correct after all, and introduce a source of weakening separate from only. In particular, in von Fintel & Iatridou’s modal environment, a phonetically null operator (AT LEAST; Crnic̆ 2011, Schwarz 2005) occurs in the scope of only to weaken the presupposed prejacent. Much recent attention has been paid to covert operators which strengthen meaning, in particular a covert EXH with a meaning similar to only (e.g. Chierchia 2006, Fox 2007, Chierchia et al. 2012). A key consequence of our analysis is that natural language incorporates a covert weakening operator, as well.


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