Focus Binding IIb: Sloppy Identity Unbound

Consider the following examples, with ellipsis indicated by strikethrough and co-reference indicated by color:

  1. Kennedy_NixonDArticles that portray him as conservative never bother Obama as much as articles that don’t portray him as conservative bother Romney.
  2. A boy that annoyed Mary asked her for another cookie. A boy that annoyed Sally did ask her for another cookie too.
  3. Kennedy looked good. People voted for himNixon looked bad. People didn’t vote for him.

In the previous post in this series, we learned about sloppy identity. This phenomenon allows a pronoun to shift meaning from its spoken occurrence (the green pronouns above) to its elided occurrence (the orange pronouns above).  For instance, in sentence 3, the green him refers to Kennedy, while the orange him refers to Nixon.

The last post also explained the difference between free and bound pronouns, and claimed that only bound ones can lead to sloppy identity in an ellipsis site. However, the cases in (1) – (3) above are counterexamples to this claim, because similar sentences with quantifiers instead of names (the classic set up for bound pronouns) sound odd under the binding indicated by color:

  1. Articles that portray him as conservative never both every politician.
  2. A boy that annoyed every woman asked her for another cookie.
  3. Every candidate looked good.  People voted for him.

This argument is a little tricky, so it bears reiteration, point by point:

  • On the face of it, it is unclear whether the green pronouns in (1) – (3) are bound or not.
  • However, since the cases with quantifiers in (4) – (6) don’t sound good, it is quite likely that the similar (green) pronouns in (1) – (3) are not bound.
  • Linguists have long claimed that only bound pronouns give rise to sloppy identity.
  • However, the orange pronouns in (1) – (3) are examples of sloppy identity, since their meanings are different from the corresponding green pronouns.
  • Therefore, there must be another method of generating sloppy identity readings.

In post I of this series, we learned that certain pronouns pick up their referents due to focus structure, a phenomenon I referred to as “focus binding.” In subsequent posts, I will argue that focus binding itself sets up the environment necessary to allow sloppy identity.

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