Friday, October 7, 2011

Two Constraints on Fake Indexicals

(Note: I wrote this blog post in 2009, but am only posting it now. Other publications may have rendered these two observations superfluous in the meantime, but I am posting them anyway in case they are still relevant.)

Kratzer (2009) proposes a theory of fake indexicals, 1st and 2nd person pronouns used as bound variables, as in the following examples:

(1) I am the only one who takes care of my children. (bound reading: no one else takes care of their own children)

(2) I am the only one who remembers our first meeting. (bound reading: no one else remembers the meeting between them and the addressee or salient other individual)

(3) I am the only one who thinks someone criticized my paper. (bound reading: no one else thinks someone criticized their paper)

In Kratzer's theory, the pronouns in (1-2) start out as minimal pronouns, without any features, and get their features via Agree with v (the head that introduces the external argument of the verb; in (1), this would be the head that introduces the external argument of takes care of). The head v can be inserted with 1st or 2nd person features, which then get transmitted to the pronouns and spelled out. Since the subject is a relative pronoun (who), it is compatible with 1st or 2nd person features, with no clash. In the long-distance case in (3), there is a conflict between the local subject (someone) and 1st person features on v; so Kratzer hypothesizes that in this case, the pronoun has 1st person features to begin with, but a context-shifing lambda-operator can be inserted to bind 1st person to the subject of the higher verb (thinks).

The purpose of this blog post is to point out two generalizations that are not captured by Kratzer's system. In this system, there is no syntactic relation between the 1st person pronoun in the matrix clause (I am the only one...) and the fake indexical in either the local or the long-distance case. Presumably, a condition on v being inserted with 1st person features as in (1-2) is that the context must involve the speaker. However, this is not good enough. There must be an occurrence of the 1st person pronoun in the same sentence, and it is not good enough for the pragmatics to implicate the speaker, as the following examples show:

(4) You see before you the only person who can lick my eyebrows. (*bound reading)

(5) Yours truly is the only person who watches my children. (*bound reading)

(6) Yours truly is the only one who thinks someone criticized my paper. (*bound reading)

In (4), you see before you clearly evokes the speaker. However, the bound reading is impossible with a first person possessive pronoun; it is only possible with a third person pronoun. Similarly, in (5) and (6) yours truly refers to the speaker, but again the bound reading of possessive my is not possible. The generalization is that there must be an explicit first person pronoun in the sentence. Kratzer's theory does not capture this generalization. In fact, this generalization is very difficult to capture in a syntactic way at all; in most theories, there is no direct syntactic relation between the matrix pronoun in (1-3) and anything in the relative clause.

In addition, Kratzer's theory fails to capture a directional asymmetry in mismatches between singular and plural pronouns. In (2), I in the matrix clause followed by our in the embedded clause can have a bound reading, but the reverse order does not allow a bound reading:

(7) We are the only ones who watch my children. (*bound reading)

This directional asymmetry was noted briefly by Rullmann 2004 (her example 19).

Both of these generalizations will be very difficult for any syntactic theory to capture, since, as noted above, there is no apparent syntactic relation between the subject of the matrix clause and anything in the relative clause. I have no suggestions to make, but simply point out the two generalizations, as they are important ones that must be captured by an adequate theory of fake indexicals.


Kratzer, Angelika (2009). Making a Pronoun: Fake Indexicals as Windows into the Properties of Pronouns. Linguistic Inquiry 40: 187-237.

Rullmann, Hotze (2004). First and Second Person Pronouns as Bound Variables. Linguistic Inquiry 35: 159-168.