Pragmatics in grammar: the case of polarity
Polarity is the aspect of sentence meaning that affirms (positive polarity) or mitigates (negative polarity) the sentiment carried in a sentence. It is, for instance, what makes the negative polar “not all is lost” a more hopeful sentence than the positive “almost all is lost”. Understanding polarity is key in understanding how utterances trigger patterns of reasoning about interlocutors and their beliefs, desires, norms, etc. At the same time, polarity is probably the best contender of a phenomenon where meaning impacts on grammaticality. Most (if not all) languages of the world have polarity items: expressions that render sentences grammatical only when they occur in an environment of a certain polar orientation. As such, polarity is one of the few phenomena where syntax, semantics and pragmatics come together. One of the most pressing issues at this theoretical tripoint is to what extent pragmatic inferences can be thought to have an impact on grammar. In this talk, I discuss a series of experiments that zooms in on this issue. This is joint work with Stavroula Alexandropoulou (Utrecht) and Lisa Bylinina (Leiden).