The Semantics and Syntax of the Italian Focus Particles Solo and

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The Semantics and Syntax of the Italian Focus Particles Solo and
The Semantics and Syntax of the Italian Focus Particles Solo and Soltanto
(1) Introduction Although the Italian exclusive focus particles (EFPs) solo and soltanto, ‘only’
appear to be semantic synonyms, their syntactic distribution varies: solo is realized pre-focally, and
soltanto either pre- or post-focally, establishing the three conditions pre-solo, pre-soltanto,
and post-soltanto, respectively; see (1). The objectives of this paper are: (i) to show that the
three conditions have identical semantic effects; and (ii), to provide an analysis that captures their
divergent syntactic distributions, specifically regarding the structural position of post-soltanto.
(2) Semantics 24 participants completed a questionnaire based primarily on Renans et al.
2011. The lack of differences in tests (a)–(c) reveal that the three conditions are semantically
equivalent, whereas the differences in (d) may be reduced to a difference in scope.
a) Scales—Some EFPs are distinguished by the scales they refer to (e.g., only and exclusively in
English). The scales under investigation are the following: i) logically-entailing scales with partial
order (non-scalar), and ii) non-entailing scales with pre-ordering (scalar); both were licit.
b) Exhaustivity —Association with Focus (AwF) with an exclusive is exhaustive: the focus phrase
is the unique entity which satisfies the properties of the proposition. When another focus was added,
such that the focus phrase was no longer unique, the results for all three conditions were infelicitous.
c) Prejacent and Universal —Exclusives can be decomposed into a positive and a negative
component, i.e., the prejacent (2-a) and the universal (2-b). Results for tests i) simple cancellation,
ii) visibility to negation, and iii) projection out of if-clauses indicate that for all three conditions, the
prejacent is a presupposition, and the universal is an assertion; neither is conversational implicature.
d) Sufficiency Modals—An EFP together with a universal-force modal creates a sufficiency—not
an exhaustive—interpretation. In von Fintel and Iatridou (2007), EFPs are semantically decomposed into “not + other,” and sufficiency readings occur when negation has scope over the modal.
Here, clear differences emerged: pre-solo and pre-soltanto allowed a sufficiency reading in
all cases; in contrast, post-soltanto permitted a sufficiency reading for verb-focus in sentencemedial position, but not for vp/object-focus in sentence-final position—presumably, the negative
meaning component cannot scope over the modal in this position; see (3) for vp-focus.
(3) Syntax The scope differences in (d) cannot be captured in a left/right branching structure,
as this would predict equal scope effects across all three conditions. Another proposal is that the preposition for solo/soltanto involve covert focus movement (Wagner 2005), whereas post-soltanto
is structurally in the same position, but appears head-finally via overt focus movement. To test this
hypothesis, a follow-up questionnaire was conducted, which revealed the following.
a) Non-Contiguous AwF — If the EFP c-commands the larger constituent containing the focus,
AwF can occur with elements not directly adjacent to the EFP (here referred to as non-contiguous
AwF), e.g., pre-verbal only in English. pre-solo and pre-soltanto allow non-contiguous AwF
(albeit questionably); post-soltanto may only appear directly adjacent to the focus; see (4).
b) NPI-Licensing —EFPs license negative polarity items in their ‘syntactic restrictor,’ but not
their scope (Wagner 2005). If AwF in an island pied-pipes the entire island into the EFP’s restrictor,
as Wagner (2005) postulates, it follows that NPIs should not be licit in the island. The idiomatic
reading with negation of the NPI alzare un dito ‘help’ (literally, ‘lift a finger’) showed mixed results
in the syntactic restrictor in all three conditions. Similarly, pre-solo and pre-soltanto showed
analogous results for adjunct islands, whereas results for post-soltanto were consistently negative;
see (5). These results show that the pre-position is not related to the post-position by movement.
c) Intervention Effects—A negative element may prevent movement if it intervenes between an
element and a landing position (e.g., covert wh-movement), known as intervention (Beck 1996). If
such intervention effects exist for non-contiguous AwF, covert movement may be involved. presolo and pre-soltanto pattern together in showing intervention effects; see (6). post-soltanto
does not permit AwF with elements not directly adjacent to it, and thus no intervention is possible.
(4) Proposal The results in the second questionnaire show that the pre-position is not related
to the post-position by movement. In order to account for the word order variation, I propose a
syntactic analysis in which two different structural positions exist for pre- and post-position. Preposition solo and soltanto are positioned at a node higher in the syntactic structure than their
post-position counterpart; in this position, the focus particle may scope over the larger constituent
containing the focus; furthermore, association via covert movement can account for NPI-licensing
and intervention effects—see tree in (7a). In contrast, post-position soltanto is realized at the most
deeply-embedded focus-marked element, akin to a morphological suffix, in that nothing may appear
between the focus and the focus particle—see tree in (7b). Focus projection may extend the focus
from where soltanto is located onto the larger constituent, accounting for why soltanto in sentencefinal position may have, for example, either object or vp focus (Beaver and Clark 2008). Finally,
scope effects of the focus particle in this position will depend entirely on where in the tree the deepest
focus-marking—and thus soltanto—is located, allowing sufficiency readings for focus-marked verbs
in sentence-medial position, but not for focus-marked vps/objects in sentence-final position.
a. Tommaso ha (✓ solo/✓ soltanto) [fumato]F .
b. Tommaso ha [fumato]F (*solo/✓ soltanto).
T. only smoked.
Silvano ha bevuto (✓ solo/✓ soltanto) la grappa (✓ soltanto). (S. drank only grappa.)
a. (prejacent ) Silvano ha bevuto grappa. (S. drank grappa.)
b. (universal) Silvano non ha bevuto nient’altro, a parte la grappa. (S. didn’t drink anything else, except for grappa.)
Per riparare il tavolino devi (✓ solo/✓ soltanto) usare la colla (*soltanto).
(intended) To repair the little table, it is sufficient to use the glue.
Tommaso ha chiesto a Giovanni di prestargli il libro e gli appunti per l’esame, ma ...
T. asked G. to lend him the book and the class notes for the exam, but ...
a. Giovanni ha (✓/? solo/✓/? soltanto) prestato [il libro]F a Tommaso (*soltanto).
(intended) G. only lent the book to G.
Il babbo pensa che l’insegnante abbia chiamato perché Rina ha aiutato a scuola, ma ...
The dad thinks the teacher called because R. helped at school, but ...
a. L’insegnante ha chiamato (? solo/? soltanto) [island perché [Maurizio]F ha alzato un
dito] (*soltanto).
(intended) The teacher only called because M. helped. (literally: because M. lifted a
In vacanza Lorenzo ha spedito qualcosa a quasi tutti i suoi coinquilini.
While on vacation L. sent something to almost all of his friends.
a. Lorenzo non ha (*solo/*soltanto) spedito niente [a Mauro]F (✓ soltanto).
(intended) L. didn’t send anything only to M.
• D. Beaver & B. Clark, 2008. Sense and Sensitivity: How Focus Determines Meaning. • S. Beck, 1996.
“Quantified Structures as Barriers for LF Movement.” Natural Language Semantics. • K. von Fintel & S.
Iatridou, 2007. “Anatomy of a Modal Construction.” Linguistic Inquiry. • A. Renans, M. Zimmermann, M.
Greif, 2011. Questionnaire on Focus Semantics. Interdisciplinary Studies on Information Structure (ISIS). •
M. Wagner, 2005. “Association by Movement. Evidence from NPI-Licensing.” Natural Language Semantics.
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