Friday, July 26, 2013

Scope in Nominalizations

van Hout, Kamiya, and Roeper (2013) discuss a difference in possible scope readings in nominalizations. They observe that sentence (1) can mean two different things:

(1) The election of nobody surprised me.

On what they call the narrow scope reading, sentence (1) means `Nobody at all was elected, and that was surprising.' On the wide scope reading, it means `Of those elected, none of them was surprising.'

In contrast to (1), sentence (2) only has the wide scope reading:

(2) Nobody's election surprised me.

van Hout, Kamiya, and Roeper (2013) view the narrow scope reading as derived by reconstruction, and devise a theory where reconstruction is blocked in sentence (2). The details of this theory are not important here. Rather, I want to suggest that something else is going on in these examples, and that is whether or not the negative quantifier is interpreted as sentential negation. In sentence (2), nobody as the possessor of the subject is preferentially taken to negate the entire clause, such that negation actually negates the main predicate `surprise'. The wide scope reading is the result of negative quantifiers being complex: they consist of an existential quantifier and negation (e.g., Jacobs 1991). If negation is interpreted as sentential negation, what is left as the possessor is an existential quantifier. The reading is then the negation of `someone's election surprised me,' or, `it is not the case that anyone's election surprised me.' This is van Hout, Kamiya, and Roeper's wide scope reading.

The idea is that a negative quantifier as a subject or the possessor of a subject is preferentially interpreted as sentential negation. If we make the nominalization containing the negative quantifier a non-subject, then we can force it to be sentential negation or not by fronting it and either doing negative inversion, or not. A fronted negative phrase plus subject-auxiliary inversion is interpreted as sentential negation; a fronted negative phrase without subject-auxiliary inversion is not interpreted as sentential negation. Consider the following:

(3) With the election of nobody was I surprised.
(4) With nobody's election was I surprised.

The sentences in (3) and (4) only have van Hout, Kamiya, and Roeper's wide scope reading. In contrast, (5) and (6) only have the narrow scope reading:

(5) With the election of nobody, I was surprised.
(6) With nobody's election, I was surprised.

There is no contrast between the election of nobody and nobody's election once we control for sentential versus non-sentential negation. In particular, (6) has the reading that (2) is said to lack, while (5) only has one reading when it should be ambiguous.

If all of this is correct, then the scope facts described by van Hout, Kamiya, and Roeper (2013) do not reveal much about the derivation of nominalizations, and they are not about reconstruction or its lack.


van Hout, Angeliek, Masaaki Kamiya, and Thomas Roeper (2013), Passivization, Reconstruction and Edge Phenomena: Connecting English and Japanese Nominalizations. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 31: 137-159.

Jacobs, Joachim (1991), Negation. In Arnim von Stechow and Dieter Wunderlich (eds.), Semantics: An International Handbook of Contemporary Research, pp 560-596. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Passives with Do So

Hallman (2013) discusses some apparently contradictory data involving English do so. The received view is that do so is incompatible with the passive (Hallman's example 5d):

(1) *These books were left in the classroom, and this cell phone was done so, too.

The typical account of this is that do so is a pro-form and does not have internal structure that can support extraction. The passive subject must move from an object position, but with do so there is no such position. What is surprising and apparently contradictory is that unaccusatives, which are also thought to involve movement from an object position, are compatible with do so (these are Hallman's examples 50a-b):

(2) The river froze solid, and the pond did so, too.
(3) The towels dripped dry, and the socks did so, too.

Unaccusatives pattern with passives in many ways, which has led to the hypothesis that the surface subject of an unaccusative, like the surface subject of a passive, starts out as an object. The fact that do so is compatible with unaccusatives but not passives seems to be problematic for this view.

However, it appears from a web search that do so is in fact compatible with passives, at least for many speakers. The following are some examples found on the web, which do not seem to me to be ungrammatical (though some are a little awkward):

(4) This means that the only the most edible meat is eaten and done so with much chewing as to liquify the food. (

(5) For those who do not know Devil Fruits are extremely rare to find and the ones that are found and eaten are done so in mere happenstance unless you know what to look for. (

(6) I then take notice and observe when the food is brought to table that the meal is picked apart and what is eaten is done so in a controlled and seemingly not pleasurable manner. (

(7) Every photo taken and every update written is done so with the adoptive parents in mind. (

(8) It is thrillingly written, and done so with the clarity and poignancy of a man who waited 62 years to reveal the full account of his experience, after first being approached by American prosecutors in 1947. (

(9) And I think everyone can agree that some of the most beautiful music ever written was done so in the name of God or gods. (quote attributed to Anand Wilder,

(10) The first ``Rosicrucian'' writings, the Fama Fraternitatis, Confessio Fraternitatis and the Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz, all when written were done so anonymously and then later traced to be the works of Johannes Valentin Andreae,... (Tobias Churton,

From these examples it appears that do so is in fact compatible with any sort of VP: active transitive, unaccusative, passive, and so on. A simple account is that do so is a pro-form for a predicate that takes a subject. The actual predicate is retrieved from context and predicated of the surface subject of do so. This predicate can be a passive or unaccusative one, such that its subject will correspond to an underlying object. For instance, in example (8), done so is replaced with the predicate Lambda x.Exists y. x is written by y.

At the same time, the predicate can only be a predicate with an open subject (a one-place predicate), and no other open positions, so that extraction of other elements is impossible:

(10) *I know which book Mary read, and which book Bill didn't do so. (Hallman 2013, (5a))

As in the traditional account, the predicate has no internal structure in the syntax, and so cannot support a gap. The only gap that is possible is the subject of the predicate itself.

The fact that do so is in fact compatible with passives renders Hallman's conclusions unwarranted and his theory unnecessary. There is no reason to think that passives and unaccusatives do not involve movement in the general case.


Hallman, Peter (2013), Predication and Movement in Passive. Lingua 125: 76--94.