We are happy to announce a talk by Ahmad Al-Bitar  (Goethe Universität) next Thursday at the Semantics Colloquium. Please find an abstract below.

Title: An in situ account for (Syrian Arabic) superlatives?
Room: IG 4.301
Date: December 5th
Time: 4pm – 6pm

The sentence in (1) is given by Heim (1999, p. 7) and shown to have a reading that is problematic for any „in situ“ analysis of the superlative.

(1) John wants to climb the highest mountain.

In addition to the absolute and relative readings, a third reading (called the „upstairs de dicto reading“ by  Sharvit & Stateva (2000)), could be available for the superlative in (1). As Heim suggests, one can think of a survey conducted about „How high a mountain do you want to climb?“. John says „I want to climb a mountain that is 6,000 m high“; Mary says „I want to climb a mountain that is 4,000 m high“ and Bill says „I just want to climb a mountain that is 1,000 m high.“ Then one can say (1) to report the result of the survey. In this context, John wants to climb a mountain that appears to be higher than the mountains that anyone else wants to climb. Nonetheless, there is no specific mountain that he wants to climb (hence not absolute, de re) and John does not care about the height of the mountains that other individuals want to climb (hence not relative, de dicto).

Heim shows that a scope analysis based on movement can easily account for this reading if the -est is moved to a position above the attitude verb. Such a movement analysis will mean that the definite determiner is indefinite, so that the superlative morpheme is able to move out. However, the elative in Syrian Arabic cannot be indefinite on a superlative interpretation. When indefinite, this form is interpreted only as a comparative. That is why I explore in this presentation if there is a possibility of overcoming the „upstairs de dicto“ problem for my and any in situ analysis of the superlative. The starting point is what Coppock and Beaver (2014) point out, namely that this reading is not limited to the superlative.