Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Only Connect

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Only Connect

Article excerpt


The "misplacement" of only illustrated by She only travels on foot, where there is a perceived discrepancy between the placement of only, before the verb, and its scope, the adjunct on foot, has long been controversial among the prescriptively minded; compare the approved-of juxtaposition in She travels only on foot. But the "misplacement" is also a well-established feature of Present-day English usage, which most speakers find more natural than the alternative. Here I look at the syntax of "misplacement" within the framework set forth in Anderson (1997), as well as at other aspects of the syntax of only. Traditionally, grammarians and lexicographers have distinguished an "adverbial" and an "attributive" only. I suggest here, however, that in both uses only is a specifier in terms of the adopted framework, an element whose major function is to seek to modify a head. In its "adverbial" use it is a very general specifier which allows or requires, under certain conditions (particularly the category of the specified), what I call here vicarious ("misplaced") specification. In terms of this last, elements can come to share their specifier with a governing predicator, or, in one case, a governed predicator. The attempt to clarify the syntax of vicarious specification is the major motivation behind the present investigation. In its "attributive" use only is a specifier of a quantifier category, either a periphrastic quantifier or one incorporated into the internal structure of a noun.

0. Introduction

It is a familiar observation concerning current (non-pedantic) English usage that the word only in (1a) can be interpreted as having the same scope as in (b) or (c):

1) a. Bill only enjoys cheese in France.

b. Bill enjoys cheese only in France.

c. Bill enjoys only cheese in France.

On neither of these readings for (1a) is only adjacent to the elements within its scope, unlike in (b) and (c). This usage is by now well established, despite much disparagement, under the rubric of "misplacement of only" (see Vallins 1956: 138-9 for a brief survey of some attitudes to this usage, and Nevalainen 1991: 8, 133-4 for further illustration and references); and the reason(s) for its currency is part of my concern here.

Sentence (1a) has another two readings where the scope is more directly reflected in the positioning of only. On one of these, enjoys alone is in the scope of only, and it bears the tonic or sentence accent; and this version of (1a) might be continued as in (2):

2) He only enjoys cheese in France, he doesn't worship it.

Such a reading is most transparent if it involves an item not at an extreme point on some conceivable scale. On the other reading, enjoys cheese in France is in the scope of only, and this interpretation excludes any other verb phrase which might be pragmatically appropriate; and in this case (1a) might be continued as in (3), for example:

3) Bill only enjoys cheese in France, that doesn't mean he goes in for culinary orgies.

(On these distinctions, see, e.g., the brief discussion by Horn 1969: 100-1). In each of these latter two cases the only immediately precedes the sequence in its scope, as it also does in (1b) and (c). We might roughly paraphrase these various readings for (1a) as in (4):

4) a. Bill doesn't enjoy cheese other than in France. (= (1b))

b. Bill doesn't enjoy anything in France other than cheese. (= (1c))

c. Bill doesn't do anything with respect to cheese in France other/more than enjoy it. (cf. (2))

d. Bill doesn't do anything (in France) more worth remarking on than enjoy cheese (in France). (cf. (3))

The bracketings in (4 d) discriminate a further distinction concerning whether or not in France is in the scope of only, whether its scope includes all of the "outer verbal phrase" or just the "inner".

These observations are part of the abundant evidence that there is a "slot" in sentence structure in which the scope-imposing elements that have been referred to as "focusing adverb(ial)s" (Nevalainen 1991: [section] 1. …

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