Aron Hirsch: The syntax and semantics of only

In this class, we will look at puzzles surrounding focus-sensitive operators, in particular only.  One central problem will be the well-known observation that only can occur at different positions in the structure (e.g. Rooth 1985).  In (1a), only attaches to the VP, while in (1b), it attaches to the DP containing the focus.  This variability has led to controversy about the meaning.  Does only apply to propositions?  Or, quantifiers?  Or, both?  We will try to make sense of the syntax and semantics of only.

(1)            a. Mary only read oneFoc book.

                  b. Mary read only oneFoc book.

We will pursue a hypothesis where only is built from two elements.  There is a propositional operator (ONLY), and that is the locus of meaning.  But, there is also a semantically vacuous focus marker (F) more local to the focus.  Despite appearances, only has the derivation in (2).  Overt only directly realizes the operator in (1a).  In (1b), only realizes the focus marker, due to concord between F and ONLY (Quek & Hirsch 2017, Hirsch 2017, after e.g. Bayer 1996, 1999, Kayne 1998, Lee 2004, Hole 2015, 2017).

(2)            [TP Mary1 [ ONLY [vP t1 read [ F [DP one book ] ] ] ] ]

The class will begin with a general introduction to focus semantics and the properties of only.  We will then see how the analysis in (2) can help make sense of a range of otherwise unexpected data (e.g. Quek & Hirsch 2017, Hirsch 2017, 2022, Hirsch & Wagner 2019, Bassi, Hirsch, & Trinh 2022).  We will also discuss works which argue for a similar derivation in Vietnamese (Hole 2013, 2017, Erlewine 2017, Sun 2020), Korean (Lee 2004), and Hungarian (Horvath 2007, Cable 2010).  Time permitting, we may consider predictions of the analysis for online processing, as well as other puzzles that only presents.