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  • Possible Worlds and Wide Scope Indefinites:A Reply to Bäuerle 1983
  • Ezra Keshet

Bäuerle (1983) argues against the Scope Theory of Intensionality (STI), proposing instead a system that divorces the relative scope of quantifiers from their intensional status (de re or de dicto). One convincing argument Bäuerle presents involves sentences like the following (translated loosely from German), which create a paradox for the STI:

  1. 1. George thinks every Red Sox player is staying in some five-star hotel downtown.

Imagine that George believes a group of men to all be staying at the same five-star hotel—perhaps he overhears the men comparing notes on their luxurious accommodations. This group of men happens to be the Boston Red Sox baseball team, but George does not know this. Furthermore, George does not know which hotel they are staying at; he is only of the opinion that they are all staying together in a five-star establishment. In fact, there may not even be any five-star hotels downtown; the sentence can be true even if the players' hotel actually has only four stars.

In this context, the quantificational force of the existential quantifier some five-star hotel takes wider scope than that of the universal quantifier every Red Sox player, since there is only one hotel in which all of the players are staying. Therefore, under standard assumptions about quantifiers, the existential quantifier should take wider scope than the universal quantifier. However, the universal quantifier is de re and the existential quantifier is de dicto. Therefore, under the STI, the universal quantifier should take scope over the intensional verb think and the existential quantifier should take scope below think. The universal quantifier should therefore take wider scope than the [End Page 692] existential quantifier. So the predictions of the STI contradict the standard theory of quantifiers.

Authors since Bäuerle (1983) (Cresswell (1985), von Fintel and Heim (2008), Schlenker (2003), and von Stechow (1984), among others) have cited this type of example as evidence that the STI is incorrect. However, in this squib I will propose an alternative explanation for the data in (1) involving the exceptional scopal properties of indefinites. Under this analysis, the example in (1) no longer poses a paradox for the STI. My analysis also correctly predicts the Bäuerle-type readings to disappear when there are no indefinites in such sentences.

1 Wide Scope Indefinites

1.1 Data

Researchers since Fodor and Sag (1982) have noted that indefinites inside positions that are islands for other operators can take scope above these positions. For instance, consider the following sentences:

  1. 2. Each professor overheard the rumor that a student of mine was called before the dean. (Fodor and Sag 1982:(69))

  2. 3. If two uncles of mine die, I will be rich. (after Ruys 1992)

An NP complement is an island for movement (Ross 1967), and thus most quantifiers inside an NP complement cannot take scope above it. For instance, consider the following variation on (2):

  1. 4. At least one professor overheard the rumor that every student of mine was called before the dean.

Example (4) only has the reading where at least one professor takes wider scope than every student of mine; it cannot mean that for each of my students, at least one (possibly different) professor overheard the rumor that he or she was called before the dean. This is presumably since the complement to the noun rumor is an island, and the quantifier every student of mine cannot escape this island to take scope over at least one professor. The situation is quite different for (2), however. Example (2) does indeed have a reading where the embedded DP, a student of mine in this case, takes scope over the subject DP, each professor. It can mean that there is a single rumor about a single student, and each professor has heard this very rumor.

If-clauses are also islands for movement and also restrict the scopal possibilities for quantifiers within them. Consider, for instance, the following example:

  1. 5. If each/every uncle of mine dies, I will be rich.

Example (5) only has a reading where my uncles must all die before...


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