Linguistics Department

Colloquium - Ezra Keshet (U. Michigan) Focus Structure & Paycheck Pronouns; or, The linguist who titled his talk seriously was wiser than the one who titled it wittily

Mon, September 24, 2012 | CAL 100

3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

Consider the following examples:

(1) a. Philip's paycheck came in the mail. It's on the table.
    b. Every paycheck was sent to its payee yesterday.
(2) The woman who deposited her paycheck was wiser than the woman who spent it.

At some level, the pronouns "it" and "its" above each represent a
paycheck, and each is somehow connected to an antecedent. In (1a),
"it" is a referential pronoun, denoting Philip's paycheck, an
individual made salient by its recent mention. The pronoun "its" in
(1b) is a bound pronoun.  It does not refer to a single paycheck, but
rather co-varies with an antecedent quanti er, "every paycheck", which
is said to bind the pronoun. Due to this binding relationship, (1b)
comes to mean (for some group of paychecks A, B, C, ...) that paycheck
A was sent to the payee of paycheck A, paycheck B was sent to the
payee of paycheck B, etc.

In sentence (2), on the other hand, the relationship between "it" and
its apparent antecedent "her paycheck" is more complex. In the most
salient reading of (2), the pronoun "it" picks out the unwise woman's
paycheck, while the definite description "her paycheck" refers to the
wise woman's paycheck, ruling out a referential reading for the
pronoun (assuming that the unwise woman's paycheck has not recently
been mentioned). A bound pronoun reading is likewise ruled out: the
only potential binder for "it" in this structure is the phrase "the
woman" in the second clause, but such a binding would yield a reading
where it refers to the unwise woman, rather than her paycheck. Thus we
have neither a referential nor a bound pronoun but rather a classic
paycheck pronoun, as first described by Karttunen (1969).

Notice that a particular parallelism holds in (2): two women did
something with their paychecks.  This parallelism is reflected in the
pronunciation of the sentence; for instance, (2) sounds decidedly odd
if the pronoun "it" is accented or if the second verb, "spent", is
unaccented.  I take this as evidence for a particular focus structure
in these clauses that constrains the interpretation of the pronoun to
maintain parallel interpretation. Independent evidence for these
constraints is provided by (3), where "his" must refer to John:

(3) John's boat is bigger than his house.

My approach contrasts with previous analyses, which have taken
paycheck pronouns to be (at one level or another and in one way or
another) equivalent to a structure containing a bound pronoun. For
instance, in such analyses the pronoun "it" in (2b) would mean
something like "her paycheck", where "her" is bound by the relative
operator referring to the) unwise woman.

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