Focus Binding IVa: Paycheck Pronouns

[Part of my series on Focus Binding.]

Imagine the following payroll database at Industrial Linguistix Inc:

Employee Paycheck # Type
Noam 001 Direct Deposit
Morris 002 US Mail
Barbara 003 Direct Deposit
Irene 004 Direct Deposit

The HR director of ILI might look at this database and make the following observation (cf. Cooper 1979):

Morris gets his paycheck in the mail.  Everyone else gets it via Direct Deposit.

Now, there is an odd (and presumably false) reading of this short discourse, wherein Morris gets paycheck #002 in the mail and everyone else gets paycheck #002 too, but the rest of the employees get #002 via Direct Deposit. This goes against what we know about paychecks (only one person can get a paycheck), though, so the better reading for this observation is as follows:

Morris gets paycheck #002 in the mail.
Noam gets paycheck #001 via Direct Deposit.
Barbara gets paycheck #003 via Direct Deposit.
Irene gets paycheck #004 via Direct Deposit.

The mystery is: how does this simple pronoun it in the second sentence come to refer to so many different paychecks? It does not seem like a normal bound pronoun, because it does not co-vary with another element in the sentence. Instead, it covaries with an item related to another element in the sentence: the paycheck related to the employees quantified over by everyone else.


Paper checks — a relic of the past?

More examples of this type of pronoun, underlined below:

The woman whose surgery cured her was happier than the woman whom it paralyzed for life. (cf. Karttunen 1969)

Every man loves his mother, but no man marries her. (Jacobson 1999)

Every pilot who shot at it hit the MiG that was chasing him. (Bach-Peters sentence)

These pronouns relate a woman to his surgery, a man to his mother, and a pilot to the MiG chasing him. Very similar sentences relate times to individuals:

10 years ago, the president was a Republican, but now he is a Democrat.

Watch this space for the exciting conclusion to this post, wherein we discover how focus binding can explain paycheck pronouns. Meanwhile, what’s your favorite paycheck pronoun?

2 thoughts on “Focus Binding IVa: Paycheck Pronouns

  1. Hi, I just found your blog and appreciated this post. I have a clarificational question about how to define a paycheck pronoun. In some languages (e.g. Serbo-Croatian, Greek), you can say things like: “Mary invited her mother, and Bill invited her too,” where “her” permits a sloppy reading (= Bill’s mother). But unlike the sentences you gave above, nothing is being quantified over in this sentence. Would you want to call this a paycheck pronoun (and analyze it on par with the ones you gave), or is this a different species of pronoun?

    • Yes — definitely that’s a paycheck pronoun. Interestingly, in English, that very sentence sounds odd. Quite similar ones (with paychecks instead of mothers) sound better, though: “Morris gets his paycheck in the mail, but Noam gets it via Direct Deposit.” Haven’t seen a good explanation for this difference in (English) judgments, though…

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