Month: November 2008

Issues in NPI licensing in questions

Elene Guerzoni and Yael Sharvit (2007) A Question of Strength: on NPIs in Interrogative Clauses, Linguistice and Philosophy 30:3 argues that NPIs in embedded questions are licensed by Exhaustivity. They leave the issue with root questions open for future discussion, only suggesting that root questions might be pragmatically exhaustive by default. I want to raise a few issues to their argument.

1. Some questions (how and why) do not have an exhaustive reading, or it is hard to define what counts as an exhaustive reading. Are NPIs allowed in such questions?

How will they build any house on the beach?
Why will they build any house on the beach?

Does syntax or morphology play any role here?

In what manner/by what means will they build any house on the beach?
For what/for what reason/for what purpose will they build any house on the beach?
What will they build any house on the beach for?

2. Some questions (some where and when questions, probably) favor a default non-exhaustive reading. Are NPIs allowed?

Where can I buy any copy of the New Yorker?
When can I buy any copy of the New Yorker?
(Suppose it is available at 3, 6, 9pm)

3. There are non-exhaustive markers. Therefore such markers should make NPIs unacceptable in a question. Is it so?

Who for example has any interest in NPIs.

4. There are exhaustivity markers. If a sentence is overtly marked to be exhaustive, are NPIs still allowed? Is there any influence from the exhaustivity marker at all?

Who all had any interest in NPIs?

I do not have any conclusions yet, and I haven’t surveyed native speakers for their judgement yet. Therefore any comments are welcome.