Schlenker, Philippe. 2010. "Donkey Anaphora: the View from Sign Language (ASL and LSF)"



[Full paper in pdf]  


Abstract:  There are two main approaches to the problem of donkey anaphora  (e.g. If John owns a donkey, he beats it). Proponents of dynamic approaches take the pronoun to be a logical variable, but they revise the semantics of quantification so as to allow an indefinite to bind a variable that is not within its scope. Older dynamic approaches took this measure to apply solely to indefinites; recent dynamic approaches have extended it to all quantifiers. By contrast, proponents of E-type analyses take the pronoun to go proxy for a definite description (with it = the donkey, or the donkey that John owns). While competing accounts make very different claims about the coindexing relations that are found in the syntax, these are not morphologically realized in spoken languages. But they are in sign languages, namely through pointing. In the first part of this paper, we argue that data from American and French Sign Language favor recent dynamic approaches. First, in those cases in which E-type analyses and dynamic analyses make different predictions about the formal connection between a pronoun and its antecedent, dynamic analyses are at an advantage. Second, the same formal mechanism is used irrespective of the indefinite or non-indefinite nature of the antecedent, which argues for recent dynamic approaches over older ones. In the second part of this paper, we investigate some constraints on the relation between a donkey pronoun and its antecedent. We argue that binding across a negative expression is possible, as long as the pronoun is presupposed to have a non-empty denotation. We then display and explain subtle differences between over sign language pronouns and all other pronouns in examples involving ‘disjunctive antecedents’. Finally,  we provide preliminary data that might shed light on three further problems:  ‘donkey’ readings of proper names; ‘complement anaphora’; and reference to ‘quantificational dependencies’.