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

  • Author(s): Charnavel, Isabelle
  • Advisor(s): Sportiche, Dominique
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation focuses on the French word propre roughly meaning `characteristic-of' and corresponding to English own 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 propre, these contributions are compositionally derived by a specific DP-internal structure and different interactions with focus.

More precisely, propre is analyzed as taking as argument a possessive relation characterized as most specific. Unlike postnominal propre, prenominal propre exhibits three main readings called restrictive, possessor and possessum propre: restrictive propre has a standard intersective truth-conditional effect; possessor and possessum propre do not, but induce focus alternatives respectively to the possessor and to the possessum; possessum propre 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 propre shows the presence of a covert focus operator akin to even.

When combined with a pronominal possessor like son (`his'), the behavior of propre provides probes bearing on binding theoretic issues. First, son propre exhibits complex correlations between focus, locality and animacy: possessor propre is subject to locality only when it is inanimate, unlike possessum propre not so constrained. The difference between possessor and possessum propre underscores an interaction between focus and binding. Moreover, the distribution of possessor son propre 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 son propre 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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