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Syntax Interface Lectures Utrecht


14 November 2019
16:00 - 17:00
Trans 10, room 0.19 (A.W. de Grootkamer)

Jos Tellings (Utrecht University)

Bare superlatives and relative clauses in Dutch

In this talk I investigate Dutch bare superlatives (i.e. without an overt NP) that have been modified by a relative clause (RC), as in (1).

(1) Deze stoel is [het duurste / het enige] [RC wat ik bezit].
this  chair is [the expensive-est-e / the only] what I own
(2) Deze stoel is het duurst(e).

Earlier work on bare superlatives (Matushansky 2008, Broekhuis 2013) has focused on the simpler unmodified case (2), but I show that a number of things change when there is a RC, including the distribution of agreement -e (Corver & van Koppen 2011), and the interpretation: (1) means that this chair is the most expensive / the only THING that I own, whereas (2) tends to be interpreted as “this chair is the most expensive CHAIR”. The choice of the relative pronoun (die vs dat vs wat) is important here: whereas the dat-wat distinction in RCs is typically seen as a prescriptive thing and subject to language change (van der Horst 1988; Severijnen 2013), I show that here it can make a truth-conditional difference.

I argue that in (1) and (2), although there is no elided NP (because of the gender mismatch between non-neuter stoel and neuter het), there is an unpronounced element that provides the generic interpretation THING. In (1) it functions as the head of the RC. Out of the blue, in the unmodified case in (2), the generic reading is masked by contextual domain restriction, but the generic reading is available in a suitable context (e.g. when (2) is an answer to a question “What is the most expensive thing here?”).