On the properties of expressivity and counter-expectation in the Japanese minimizer NPI kakera ‘piece’

Osamu Sawada


The Japanese expression kakera has a literal meaning of ‘piece’. However, when kakera is combined with mo ‘even’, it can behave as an idiomatic negative polarity item (NPI). The distinctive features of the NPI kakera are that it usually co-occur with a property-related positive noun (e.g., seijitsu-sa ‘sincerity’) and is used for expressing a feeling of complaint. I argue that unlike the typical minimizer NPIs, the NPI kakera has an expressive property in that it not only denotes a minimum degree of an NP, but conventionally implies that high degrees of NP are expected (as a desire), and a judge (typically a speaker) is complaining about the target in question. Previous studies have shown that the meaning of EVEN (explicitly or implicitly) contributes to the creation of the emphatic function of minimizer (e.g., Horn 1989; Chierchia 2013). However, the phenomenon of kakera suggests that in addition to EVEN, minimizers can have expectation/attitudinal components that further restrict the situation in which they are used. This study shows that the multidimensional approach (Potts 2005; McCready 2010; Sawada 2010, 2018; Gutzmann 2012) to meaning allows us to capture the item-specific pragmatic properties of minimizers in a systematic fashion.


negative polarity item; minimizer; expressives; complaint; conventional implicature

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v7i1.5259

Copyright (c) 2022 Osamu Sawada

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