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Maximality in the semantics ofwh-constructions

Hotze Rullmann, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation provides evidence that the notion of maximality plays a central role in the semantics of wh-constructions, in particular wh-questions, comparatives, and free relatives. It is argued that the semantics of each of these constructions involves reference to the maximal element of a certain set. The way maximality manifests itself depends on the algebraic structure of that set. Degrees are ordered linearly and the maximal element of a set of degrees is therefore the highest degree in that set. In a set in which the elements are only ordered in a join semi-lattice the maximal element is the sum of all the elements in the set. In chapter 2, I show how the maximality account of comparatives can account for their semantic properties, in particular with respect to the distribution of negative polarity items and the interpretation of disjunction. Chapter 3 extends the maximality analysis to questions and free relatives. In free relatives maximality has a 'universalizing' effect, whereas in questions it gives rise to the exhaustiveness. In chapter 4 discusses a particular kind of questions, namely how many-questions, focussing on the scope interactions between the how many-phrase and other elements in the sentence. A common thread running through the dissertation is the interaction between wh-movement and negation. 'Negative' elements can block wh-movement in certain cases, a phenomenon which is known in the literature as the negative island effect. In the rest of chapter 1 the negative island effect is introduced and the accounts of it found in the literature are briefly discussed. In chapters 2, 3, and 4 it is shown how maximality can account for the negative island effect. In chapter 5 certain remaining issues are discussed including the question whether the maximality account of negative island effects can be extended to other kinds of 'weak' or 'selective' islands, in particular wh-islands. A central issue in this matter is the proper division of labor between syntax and semantics. The chapter also discusses the role played by pragmatics in the explanation of the negative island effect and a maximality effect induced by focus.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Rullmann, Hotze, "Maximality in the semantics ofwh-constructions" (1995). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9524743.