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On her own - Parsimonious Compositionality: Probing Syntax and Semantics with French propre

  • Charnavel, Isabelle
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2012
eScholarship - University of California
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This dissertation focuses on the French word <italic>propre</italic> roughly meaning `characteristic-of' and corresponding to English <italic>own</italic> found in `her own thesis'. This adjective makes extremely varied and complex contributions to the meaning and properties of sentences it occurs in. The present work addresses the question of how these contributions arise. Parsimoniously assuming a unique lexical entry for <italic>propre</italic>, these contributions are compositionally derived by a specific DP-internal structure and different interactions with focus.More precisely, <italic>propre</italic> is analyzed as taking as argument a possessive relation characterized as most specific. Unlike postnominal <italic>propre</italic>, prenominal <italic>propre</italic> exhibits three main readings called restrictive, possessor and possessum <italic>propre</italic>: restrictive <italic>propre</italic> has a standard intersective truth-conditional effect; possessor and possessum <italic>propre</italic> do not, but induce focus alternatives respectively to the possessor and to the possessum; possessum <italic>propre</italic> moreover gives rise to scalarity effects. These readings are argued to derive from a principle of minimization and different interactions with focus; in particular, the behavior of possessum <italic>propre</italic> shows the presence of a covert focus operator akin to <italic>even</italic>.When combined with a pronominal possessor like <italic>son</italic> (`his'), the behavior of <italic>propre</italic> provides probes bearing on binding theoretic issues. First, <italic>son propre</italic> exhibits complex correlations between focus, locality and animacy: possessor <italic>propre</italic> is subject to locality only when it is inanimate, unlike possessum <italic>propre</italic> not so constrained. The difference between possessor and possessum <italic>propre</italic> underscores an interaction between focus and binding. Moreover, the distribution of possessor <italic>son propre</italic> sheds new light on how to formulate condition A supporting the relevance of local binding domain (for non-exempt anaphors) and the need for exemption (from condition A). As inanimate French anaphors like <italic>son propre</italic> are never exempt, they provide a crucial tool for delimiting locality, allowing a reduction of condition A (at least in French) to phase theory based architectural principles.

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