UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Number and the scope of indefinites Ferch, Elizabeth Ann


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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