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Auteur: Alice TER MEULEN

Focus meaning and aspectual adverbs

Abstract/Résumé: The fronted aspectual adverb 'no longer' in (1a) opens up the range of stronger alternatives in the focus meaning of 'only', of which one is asserted as the currently strongest alternative in the main phrase for the discourse to be considered coherent. (1) a. No longer does she only like him, she now loves him. 'No longer… only p' hence presupposes p, and is inferred from the entire phrase, opening up stronger alternatives in the focus meaning of 'only'. Although both clauses are present tense, the indexical 'now' must be overtly asserted in (1a) to identify the given, current reference time as the value of the event time of loving her as new top of the scale. Marked prosody on the verb or the scalar particle ‘even’ may serve closely equivalent functions in such scalar discourse, cf. (1b), (1c). (1) b. No longer does she only like him, she LOVES him. c. No longer does she only like him, she even loves him. The global maxim of coherence requires strengthening, where the main clause assertion strengthens the content of the negated polarity phrase. Structured by the negated scalar 'only', the discourse may, however, coerce or overrule commonly accepted norms or default assumptions on the way things ought to proceed to be coherent, cf. (2). (2) No longer does she only love him, she (now) (even) likes him. In (2) 'no longer' licenses the inversion in the polarized phrase, inducing the scalar bottom presupposition that she loves him. The set of new focus alternatives opened up is asserted to contain liking him, by default lexically weaker, but in the polarized structure of (2) reinterpreted as stronger, inverting the default lexical gradation. Hence we infer that the speaker of (2) apparently considers loving to be weaker than liking, overruling lexical meaning by the pragmatic maxim of coherence. Further data from various English corpora show such strengthening in discourse by negative aspectual adverbs and focus particles 'no longer only', 'no longer even', 'still even', 'already even' and 'already only' to be very common. The reason why the indexical 'now' must be overtly asserted is to contribute new information to reset a scalar top in such context, although its direct reference is obviously always given. Ter Meulen, Alice (2006). Cohesion in temporal context: aspectual adverbs as dynamic indexicals. In Zanuttini R. et al., (eds.), Comparative and Cross-linguistic Research in Syntax and Semantics: Negation, Tense and Clausal Architecture, 362–77. Georgetown: Georgetown U. P. Ter Meulen, Alice. (2012). Temporal reasoning as indexical inference. In Jaszczolt, K. & de Saussure, L. (eds.), Time: Language, Cognition and Reality, New York & Oxford: Oxford U. P.