Schlenker, P: 2011, "Complement Set Anaphora and Structural Iconicity in ASL" [Squib]. Manuscript, Institut Jean-Nicod and NYU

[Full paper in pdf]

In English, 'complement set' anaphora is limited or impossible: in Most students came to class; they stayed home instead, the pronoun they can hardly refer to the students who didn't come to class; when most is replaced with the negative quantifier few, this reading is arguably available. In American Sign Language (ASL), closely related data can be obtained when a default locus is used to refer to the antecedent, and complement set anaphora is degraded. However the facts are different when embedded loci are used instead: a large locus A denotes the group of all students, and a sublocus a denotes the group of students who came to class. Without explicit introduction, the complement locus (A-a) is then used to refer to the group of students who didn't come to class – and this possibility is open irrespective of the monotonicity of the quantifier. We take this anaphoric possibility from (a) the geometric properties of plural loci qua areas of space, and (b) a constraint that guarantees that subset and subtraction relations among plural loci are preserved by the interpretation function ('structural iconicity'), with the result that (A-a) gets the expected denotation.