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Tracking Choice

Friday, October 22, 2010
12:00 AM
2001 LSA Building

Linguists are beginning to appreciate the direness of Ross's paradox. If I tell you 1. You may eat an apple. On standard linguistic approaches (e.g., Kratzer's), (1) is supposed to be true just in case there is at least one world compatible with all that is required in which you eat an apple. But in such a world, it follows from the mere fact that you are eating an apple that you are eating an apple or eating a donut. ("Did you really eat an apple or a donut? Yes, I ate an apple.") On the standard view, then, (1) appears to entail (2): 2. You may eat an apple or a donut. But (2) gives more permission than (1): if (2) is true, you normally also have permission to eat a donut. Ross's paradox (in one version), then, is the puzzle of how to prevent giving permission to eat an apple from automatically granting permission to eat a donut. My view is that disjunction provides a choice. Usually, Mother Nature gets to choose ("It will either rain or not rain.") The funny thing about permission sentences is that they can assign a choice to someone else (the permittee). The challenge, then, is how to rig a grammar in a way that allows us to track who get to make the choice.