On the semantics of too and only: distinctness and subsumption

Shai Cohen, University of Massachusetts - Amherst


This dissertation is about the two related notions of subsumption and distinctness and the roles they play in the semantics of the particles only and too, respectively. In chapter 2 I formulate the distinctness requirement introduced by too in terms of the distinctness relation, which is taken to be a relation between sets of events. The chapter examines the nature of the distinctness requirement and, by doing so, the semantic nature of too. Two issues are discussed: 1) In which sense is too focussensitive? 2) Is the distinctness requirement a presupposition? I provide some evidence that too is conventionally associated with focus, in the sense of Beaver and Clark (2008), and that it is a presupposition trigger, in the sense of Heim (1983, 1992). I then formulate, building on Heim (1983, 1992) and others, a dynamic account of too as a presupposition trigger. Chapter 3 is dedicated to the notion of subsumption, which plays a crucial role in the semantics of only. It opens with an overview of Kratzer’s (1989) account of subsumption within the framework of situation semantics. I then argue that Kratzer’s account does not apply to modal sentences, in particular to counterfactuals. I propose that subsumption should be analyzed as Strawson-entailment with respect to a subset of W, i.e. as weak Strawson-entailment. The notion of Strawson-entailment was put to use by von Fintel (1997) in accounting for several phenomena related to counterfactuals. It will be shown to play a crucial role in a general account of subsumption as well. Throughout chapter 3 it is assumed that when only combines with a counterfactual, it takes as argument the proposition expressed by that counterfactual. In chapter 4 I try to be more faithful to the syntax, where only is a sister of the antecedent or the consequent, depending on its location in the sentence. I sketch an analysis where only, while not combining with the entire counterfactual, still has as its domain of quantification a set of counterfactual propositions.