Ordinary superlative descriptions are well-known to provide safe harbor to negative polarity items (NPIs), as in the longest book anyone read. What is less well-known is that relative superlative descriptions also sometimes host NPIs, as in the loudest that anyone sang. We observe that this latter pattern is more general than has been previously described. In fact, relative superlatives can license NPIs outside of their own descriptions. On the one hand, we argue that this provides evidence that the superlative adjectives take sentential rather than nominal scope. But on the other, following insights in Howard 2014, we argue that traditional semantic accounts of scope-taking superlatives do not present the right monotonicity profile to account for the NPIs either. A recent, dynamic take on superlative semantics (Bumford 2017) is shown to do better.
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April 19 2021
Negative Polarity Items in Definite Superlatives
Online Issn: 1530-9150
Print Issn: 0024-3892
© 2020 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Linguistic Inquiry 1–39.
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Dylan Bumford, Yael Sharvit; Negative Polarity Items in Definite Superlatives. Linguistic Inquiry 2021; doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/ling_a_00409
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