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Share Paper 3180

Focus and Condition C
Will Nediger
296-302 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


Focus constructions have often been seen as exceptions to Condition C. In the sentences Only JOHN likes John and John only likes JOHN, the two occurrences of "John" may co-refer given the proper discourse context, even though one c-commands the other. I argue that focus constructions are not exceptions to Condition C, but follow straightforwardly from standard accounts of binding and focus. I adopt the binding theory of Safir (2004), a competition-based theory, which roughly states that Condition C is a result of the fact that a bound R-expression can normally be replaced with an anaphor or pronoun without affecting the interpretation, and anaphors or pronouns are preferred over R-expressions when they are available. I argue that focus constructions with bound R-expressions are grammatical because replacing the bound R-expression with an anaphor would in fact change the interpretation, taking into account Rooth's (1992) proposed second component of meaning in focus constructions, the so-called focus semantic value. For cases like John only likes JOHN, I argue that they are grammatical for pragmatic reasons. Safir's theory allows for an override of the binding conditions for pragmatic reasons in certain cases, and I argue that this is such a case. As is well known, focus constructions are subject to a parallelism condition—one of the propositions which the assertion is being contrasted with must be present (at least implicitly) in the discourse. I argue that John only likes JOHN is felicitous because it satisfies a structural parallelism condition which John only likes HIMSELF does not.

Published in

Proceedings of the 32nd West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by Ulrike Steindl, Thomas Borer, Huilin Fang, Alfredo García Pardo, Peter Guekguezian, Brian Hsu, Charlie O'Hara, and Iris Chuoying Ouyang
Table of contents
Printed edition: $375.00