On the syntax of English minimizers

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© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. The syntactic behaviour of English minimizers such as (not) a/one word, (not) a/one bit and (not) sleep a/one wink is puzzling: while they can behave as polarity items (PIs) in non-negative and negative contexts, they become negative quantifiers (NQs) when merged with a negation in negative contexts. Unlike previous accounts, where emphasis is put mainly on highlighting the similarity of minimizers to any-PIs and on supporting the contribution of an even-reading, I integrate the peculiar behaviour of minimizers in English within an analysis of negative indefinites as existential quantifiers that can structurally associate with negation in different ways. I claim that English minimizers contain three basic ingredients: a Numeral Phrase, a Focus particle and, in negative contexts, a Negative Phrase, not. The presence of a Focus particle even in the structure of minimizers plus the flexible merging possibilities of not with respect to the other two components of the minimizer result in their NQ-like behaviour, which can be now fully integrated into a theory of negative indefinites as syntactic objects that are compositionally built.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)739-760
JournalNatural Language and Linguistic Theory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


  • English
  • Focus particle
  • Minimizers
  • Negation
  • Negative quantifiers
  • Polarity items


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