University of Pennsylvania
When is the food simply delicious? Tackling the puzzle of emphatic exclusives
When occurring next to predicates located at the extreme of a scale, exclusive modifiers such as “just” and “simply” contribute an emphatic effect, intensifying the meaning of the utterance. I will refer to these uses as Emphatic Exclusives (henceforth, EEs)
(1) The food is simply delicious.
(2) The party was just amazing.
EEs present a puzzle for the study of linguistic meaning: first, their intensifying effect is at odds with the weakening contribution that exclusives typically introduce in other contexts (e.g., in “The food is just ok”); second; they feature idiosyncratic grammatical properties, which are not found in other uses of exclusives — they don’t affect the truth-conditions of the utterance, fail to interact with the propositional content, and resist focal stress.
In this talk, I develop an analysis of these modifiers as metalinguistic exclusives, whereby the speaker signals that no more complex alternative description is assertable in the context. On this account, emphasis emerges as an indirect effect of the interaction between exclusivity and scalar extremeness: because all the alternatives to extreme predicates happen to be weaker than the predicate itself, ruling them out will induce an anti-weakening effect, whereby the predicate is interpreted in its full strength. I suggest that this proposal raises relevant questions for the investigation of meaning and alternative-based reasoning, such as whether canonical vs. emphatic exclusives are parsed via different mechanisms, and whether the restriction of EEs to extreme predicates is constrained by grammatical or processing factors.