Deletion, Deaccenting and Presupposition

C. Tancredi, 1992

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In this dissertation, I examine the effects of deaccenting – the removal of phonological accent from a constituent – on interpretation.  In general, deaccenting of an element is possible only if that element is salient in the discourse context.  Salience alone, however, is not a sufficient condition for deaccenting.  The discourse context in (1) makes salient both the verb hit and the NP John, and it is consequently possible for these elements to be deaccented in (1a,b).  However, in (1c), it is not possible to deaccent both of these elements simultaneously.  (Focus is indicated by CAPITALIZATION, deaccenting by small italics.)

(1)        Mary hit John.  Then,

            a.  BILL hit SUE.

            b.  BILL KICKED Mary.

            c.  #BILL hit Mary.

Deaccenting of both the verb hit and its diect object Mary in (1c) requires that the discourse context make salient a hitting of Mary, but this condition is not met in (1).

To account for the facts illustrated above, I propose that deaccenting plays a role in identifying the focus-related topic of a sentence, where it is a necessary condition for a sentence to be felicitous in a given context that the focus-related topic of that sentence be instantiated in the context.  The focus-related topic of a sentence is generated (roughly) by replacing all focused constituents by variables and combining the resulting structure so as to end up with the smallest structure within which all properties of the remaining lexical elements are satisfied.  The resulting structure will be instantiated in a context if there is another element in the context with which it is non-distinct, where variables count as non-distinct from other elements of the same semantic type.  By this process, the sentences in (1) will have the focus-related topic in (2).

(2)        a.  x hit y

            b.  Mary

            c.  x hit Mary

The representations in (2a,b) are instantiated in the context consisting of the sentence Mary hit John in (1) above, and hence (1a,b) are felicitous.  (2c), however, is not instantiated in this context, and hence is infelicitous.

The analysis sketched above provides an explanation for the felicity or infelicity of a sentence in a larger discourse context based upone the focus structure of the sentence and the composition of the context.  While the analysis is of some interest by itself, even more importatnt is the use to which the analysis can be put in accounting for certain phenomena typically associated with VP deletion.  Since Sag (1976) and Williams (1977), it has standardly been assumed that restrictions on pronominal interpretations in VP deletion contexts are to be explained in terms of the mechanism that assigns an interpretation to an empty VP.  However, we find that identicaly restrictions appear in contexts in which a VP has been deaccented but not deleted.  Thus, parallel to the sentence in (3a) which has only a strict and a sloppy reading available for the (deleted) pronoun, we find an identical restriction for the deaccented pronoun in (3b).

(3)        a.  Johni said hei is a genius because Bill did.

            b.  Johni said hei is a genius because Bill said he’s intelligent.

No analysis of VP deletion in the current literature is capable of accounting for this parallelism.  If we assume that a phonologically deleted VP is represented in the LF representation of a sentence as a deaccented VP, however, it becomes possible to account for this parallelism in a principled fashion by assimilating the deletion cases to the deaccenting ones.

Thesis supervisor:         James Higginbotham

Title:                             Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy

Table of Contents

1          VP deletion: the problem                                                                                   8

            1.1       Introduction                                                                                          8

            1.2       Previous analyses of VP ellipsis                                                 12

                        1.2.1    Sag:  a deletion-based analysis of VP deletion               12

                        1.2.2    Williams: a reconstruction-based analysis of VP deletion            17

                        1.2.3    Dalrymple, Shieber and Pereira:  VP deletion as

pronominal interpretation of an empty VP                                  19

                        1.2.4    Summary of the three analyses                                      24

            1.3       VP deaccenting                                                                                    24

                        1.3.1    Further evidence                                                                       31

2          Deaccenting and presupposition                                                                        35

            2.1       Introduction                                                                                          35

            2.2       Focus-related presupposition as topic                                                   38

                        2.2.1    The standard analysis                                                                38

                        2.2.2    Revisions to the standard analysis                                              41

                        2.2.3    Toward a theory of focus-related topic                          43

            2.3       Problems and extensions                                                                       46

                        2.3.1    Instantiation                                                                              48

                        2.3.2    Context incrementation                                                 51

                        2.3.3    Multiple foci                                                                             58

            2.4       Phonological accent and semantic focus                                     61

                        2.4.1    Semantic focus identification                                                      61

                           The natural response test                                               62

                           Association with “only”                                     71

                           Refinements and caveats                                               74

                        2.4.2    Focus-related topics revisited                                                    76

                        2.4.3    Standard presuppositions and focus-related topics                     84

                        2.4.4    The necessity of deaccenting                                                     86

            2.5       As for x                                                                                                89

3          VP deletion: the solution                                                                                    91

            3.1       Introduction                                                                                          91

            3.2       General form of the solution                                                                  92

                        3.2.1    Simple ambiguity resolution                                                       93

                        3.2.2    Pronoun-induced ambiguities                                                     98

            3.3       Specifics of VP ellipsis                                                              111

                        3.3.1    Copy based theories of VP ellipsis                                            112

                        3.3.2    Deletion based theories of VP ellipsis                            119

                        3.3.3    Alternate deletion-based analysis                                               127

            3.4       Pronominal interpretation revisited                                                         131

                        3.4.1    Eliminative puzzles                                                                    132

                        3.4.2    Pseudo-sloppy identity                                                  141