Topic Interpretation and Wide Scope Indefinites

  • Christian Ebert
  • Cornelia Endriss


In recent years it has turned out that only a subclass of indefinites can scope out of syntactic islands.  As data from German suggests, this class corresponds to the class of quantifiers that can be interpreted as topics and therefore it seems to be desirable to correlate topicality and specificity (i.e. wide scope).  In this paper, we will argue that the specific interpretation of indefinites is the result of the application of an illocutionary operator TopAssert (Topic Assert) to sentences in order to update a common ground. As a consequence of this operation, the topic-marked constituent receives wide scope and relates to the rest of the clause in a way that corresponds to the intuitive content of the notion of aboutness topic. Thus the ability to be a topic and to be interpreted specifically is reduced to the application of one and the same operation to the respective constituents. For this reason, we predict that only those quantifiers that can take wide scope out of syntactic islands can be topics. The observation that wide scope phenomena are restricted to only a subclass of quantifiers (and even indefinites) will be explained by a Topic Condition. This condition tests the lexical semantics of quantifiers and determines the applicability of TopAssert on the basis of a comparison of the aboutness and familiarity definitions we propose.
How to Cite
Ebert, C., & Endriss, C. (2019). Topic Interpretation and Wide Scope Indefinites. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 8, 95-110.