A diachronic explanation for cross-linguistic variation in the use of inverse-scope constructions

Omri Amiraz


This study investigates the cross-linguistic variation in the use of inverse-scope constructions such as All that glitters is not gold for expressing "Not all X are Y" propositions. In particular, it seeks to explain why these constructions are in use and even common in some languages but lacking in others. It is argued that the cross-linguistic variation is explained by competition with alternative scope-transparent constructions, but only when the history of individual languages is taken into consideration. When a language develops a novel construction such as Not all that glitters is gold, which expresses scope relations transparently, it may take several centuries before this novel construction finally pushes a pre-existing inverse-scope construction out of use. In the meantime, inverse scope is used alongside its scope-transparent competitor. Thus, the universal bias for scope transparency has a weak synchronic effect, but it drives systematic historical developments across languages.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/salt.v31i0.5083

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