Relativized Exhaustivity: mention-some and uniqueness

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Wh-questions with the modal verb can admit both mention-some (MS) and mention-all (MA) answers. This paper argues that we should treat MS as a grammatical phenomenon, primarily determined by the grammar of the wh-interrogative. I assume that MS and MA answers can be modeled using the same definition of answerhood (Fox in Mention-some interpretations, MIT seminar, 2013) and attribute the MS/MA ambiguity to structural variations within the question nucleus. The variations are: (i) the scope ambiguity of the higher-order wh-trace and (ii) the absence/presence of an anti-exhaustification operator. However, treating MS answers as complete answers in this way contradicts the widely adopted analysis of uniqueness effects in questions of Dayal (Locality in wh quantification: Questions and relative clauses in Hindi, 1996), according to which the uniqueness effects of singular which-phrases arise from an exhaustivity presupposition, namely that a question must have a unique exhaustive true answer. To solve this dilemma, I propose that question interpretations presuppose Relativized Exhaustivity: roughly, the exhaustivity in questions is evaluated relative to the accessible worlds as opposed to the anchor/utterance world. Relativized Exhaustivity preserves the merits of Dayal’s exhaustivity presupposition while permitting MS; moreover, it explains the local-uniqueness effects in modalized singular wh-questions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)311-362
Number of pages52
JournalNatural Language Semantics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Answers
  • Exclusivity
  • Exhaustivity
  • Free choice
  • Higher-order interpretations
  • Interrogatives
  • Mention-some
  • Modal obviation
  • Modality
  • Questions
  • Uniqueness


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