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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tense, Scope, and Relative Clauses

The following sort of sentence, due to Kusumoto 1999, is fun to think about:

(1) Every faculty member failed to talk to a prospective student who (later) decided to go to Umass

(1) has two later-than-matrix interpretations where the time introduced by the past tense of the relative clause is later than the time introduced by the past tense of the matrix clause.

Prior-fans might try to account for these readings via Quantifier Raising. For example, it might be thought that, by Quantifier Raising, the noun phrase and the relative clause move out of the scope of the matrix clause as follows:

(1a) [a prospective student who (later) decided to go to UMass]i every faculty member failed to talk to ti

(1a) is ambiguous between: there is a prospective student who later decided to go to UMass (e.g. Amy) that no faculty member talked to, and for each faculty member there is a (possibly different) prospective student who later decided to go to UMass that s/he didn't talk to.

The problem is that (1) has a further reading which (1a) does not have, namely: no faculty member talked to any prospective student who later decided to go to UMass. (1a) does not have this reading because the bracketed material is outside the scope of the non-bracketed material. So Kusumoto suspects that the movement hypothesis is false.

However, it seems to me that the problem goes away on the plausible assumption that the noun phrase and relative clause can take narrow scope with respect to negation but wide scope with respect to the rest of the sentence.

Reference:
Kusumoto, K. 1999. Tense in Embedded Contexts, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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