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Distributivity and Interpretation: In Support of a Modal Treatment of the Progressive
Susie Jones
46-59 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


This paper is concerned with how progressive aspect interacts with distributive quantifiers, specifically with objects headed by each and every. Progressive sentences refer to events that are not yet completed at the reference time. Distributive determiners require that the predicate apply to each member of the restrictor set individually, rather than to the set as a whole. When an accomplishment event in the progressive takes a distributively quantified object, the resulting sentence sounds odd, as in: John was eating every cookie. However, the oddness only arises in a context where the cookies are eaten one by one. The sentence is improved by a context where the cookies are eaten simultaneously, where John takes a single bite out of each one in turn. Tunstall (1998) proposes a treatment of distributivity in which each member of the QP's restrictor set is associated with the progressive predicate in its own distinct subevent. This condition on the use of every is not satisfied in a context where the cookies are eaten consecutively: the progressive verb means that the event is incomplete; therefore, at the reference time some of the cookies are uneaten and thus not associated with any subevent. When the cookies are eaten simultaneously, by taking one bite from each in turn until all are finished, each individual cookie is the object of its own in-progress subevent, which satisfies Tunstall's condition on every. Moreover, at the reference time, there can be some cookies that are not started: John only has to have the intention to eat every cookie, which supports a modal analysis of the progressive.

Published in

Proceedings of the 2004 Texas Linguistics Society Conference: Issues at the Semantics-Pragmatics Interface
edited by Pascal Denis, Eric McCready, Alexis Palmer, and Brian Reese
Table of contents
Printed edition: $180.00