Monday, September 10, 2012

Hintikka: "Quantifiers in Natural Languages" (1977)

In this paper, Jaakko Hintikka yet again presents his "game-theoretical semantics" and its extension to games with imperfect information. However, he also proposes his "any-thesis" — a conjecture stating that any is grammatical in exactly the contexts in which it means something different than every.

The paper was originally published in the second-ever issue of Linguistics and Philosophy (1977), but was reprinted in the anthology Game-Theoretical Semantics (1979).

Ordering Principles

The most notable new idea in the paper is the set of ordering principles that Hintikka introduces in section 10. These are principles that govern whether, say, the modality player or the quantification player should move first when we encounter sentences like some people might not be nice. These principles can essentially be translated into rules about the relative scope of various operations.

The reason he introduces these principles is that he wants to account for the fact that any sometimes behaves like an existential quantifier rather than a universal:
  • I can do anything. (universal)
  • I can't do anything. (existential)
He explains this by introducing an ordering principle that requires any to "scope out" over a negation whenever there is one. Using this principle, "not any" will then be equivalent with "every not," which then again is equivalent to "not some" which we were looking for. The change of quantifier type is, in other words, achieved by swapping negation and quantification.

One possible problem with this approach is double negation. Hintikka doesn't explicitly discuss this, but somewhere in his system, he needs to bar the quantifier from scoping out over both negations in sentences like
  • It's not true that we haven't done anything about the crisis.
Otherwise this sentence would come out as equivalent to We have done everything about the crisis instead of We have done something about the crisis.

The Any-Thesis

So, Hintikka's self-titled any-thesis can be put as follows: the quantifier any is grammatical if and only if it appears under a negation, or under some other operation that it can scope out of with a resulting change of meaning. Beyond that, it is synonymous with every.

This explains distributions like the following:
  • *I know anything.
  • I don't know anything.
If we take If A, then B to be equivalent with Not A, or B, then it further explains the following pattern:
  • If I have any medical issues, the test comes out positive.
  • *If the test comes out positive, I have any medical issues.
In both cases, any can scope out over the negation and thus effectively change its meaning from every to some.

The Status of the Context

But then things get a little hairy. We can note that some tenses apparently interact with the universal quantifier in a meaning-changing way, while others don't:
  • *I have been anywhere.
  • ?*I am going anywhere.
  • ?*I went anywhere.
  • *I am anywhere.
  • ?I will go anywhere.
  • I would go anywhere.
The asterisks here are based on my estimates. I'm quite unsure what native speakers would think about them.

Hintikka has a conjecture about this (sec. 18). He thinks that when we're thinking about the future or about counterfactual scenarios, we're dealing with a special kind of modal logic in which the domain of quantification changes from world to world. We consequently get a logical difference between sentence pairs like these:
  • I every scenario, everybody wins.
  • Everybody wins in every scenario.
To see this, consider for instance a model in which some possible worlds contains one more loser than the actual world. In that case, the first sentence might be false, while the second true. (I am here assuming that entities have all properties in scenarios where they don't exist.)

So, since such pairs are no longer equivalent in such a grow/shrink logic, it makes a difference whether a universal quantification comes before or after a necessity modal. This thus introduces a difference in meaning and accounts for the (possible) grammaticality of I will steal anything.

An Alternative Approach

However, I would explain these facts in terms of how odd it is to use a free choice operation in a context that essentially excludes any real choice. This would also explain the context-sensitivity that there seems to be about acceptability of any.

As far as I can tell, at least, we are more inclined to accept present tense uses of any when the sentence can be interpreted as offering a real choice. Thus, according to my personal intuitions (and some googling), we have:
  • I buy anything if the price is right.
  • *I have any problems if the test is positive.
  • I switch off any device that consumes electricity.
  • *I experienced any emotion that is humanly possible.
This seems to support a free-choice reading of any over the scoping-out story.

Methodology: Some Quotes

In this paper as elsewhere, Hintikka is pretty dismissive of asking other people for their opinions about sample sentences. He thus brushes off "different speakers' more or less confused uneducated intuitions" (p. 91) as misrepresenting "what a truly competent speaker would do" (p. 90).

In footnote 13, he writes:
I have been amazed time and again by linguists who claim that they are dealing with competence and not performance and then go on to base their theories on people's uneducated and unanalysed reactions to complicated sentences. (p. 115)
It's difficult to see what the object of semantics is, then, if only the intuitions of trained logicians really count as data. With the right training, people can come to see whatever sentence meaning we want them to see.

Methodology: Examples

Just to illustrate the problem, let me briefly cite a couple of the sentences that Hintikka takes to be good, grammatical English sentences with definite meaning:
  • Every townsman admires a friend and every villager envies a cousin who have met each other. (p. 89)
  • Every actor of each theatre envies a film star, every review of each critic mentions a novelist, and every book by each chess writer describes a grand master, of whom the star admires the grand master and hates the novelist while the novelist looks down on the grand master. (p. 97)
  • Some product of some subdivision of every company of every conglomerate is advertised in some page of some number of every magazine of every newspaper chain. (p. 97)
  • Every girl has not been dated by John. (p. 101)
  • If Jane wins, anybody who has bet on her is happy. (p. 113)
How thin is the line between "complicated sentences" and word salad? Well, compare these "grammatical" sentences to the ones that Hintikka stars as ungrammatical:
  • If Jane has won any match, she has won any match. (p. 100)
  • John must pick any apple. (p. 101)
  • If everyone loses, anyone loses. (p. 110)
  • Mary hopes that Jane will win any match. (p. 112)
  • Mary believes that Jane will win any match. (p. 112)
According to Hintikka's methodology, if we ask an average English speaker about these sentences, we would get nothing but "confused uneducated intuitions." Instead, we should look for a "consistent, general set of rules of semantic interpretation" (p. 91) that can accommodate the entailments that we, we educated logicians, think the sentences ought to have.

That sounds like a recipe for injecting the theory into the data, even quite openly and deliberately. I find it difficult to see how any rational discussion could follow if we value our own speculative and introspective intuitions about foreign languages over the judgments of other people.

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