“we don’t have any bananas”

Kai von Fintel‘s inaugural post at LanguageLog. Click here for the full post.

The Supreme Court’s doctrine therefore seems to be that “any” like other quantifiers can be contextually restricted, that what the restrictions are depends on the intentions of the speaker (here: Congress), and that one can infer the intentions by seeing what interpretations make sense in the context of other utterances in the same text. What makes “any” so interesting in this context is that there is a tension between the natural tendency of quantifiers to be contextually restricted and the peculiar properties of “any”. (…) Nirit Kadmon and Fred Landman argue that what “any” contributes is a widening of the meaning a sentence might otherwise have. They suggest that the difference between “we don’t have bananas” and “we don’t have any bananas” is that in the latter case we claim to not even have questionable bananas. Justice Breyer argues in his decision, quite plausibly, that this widening effect has its limits. “Any court” can mean “any court in the US” without being interpreted as widely as “any court anywhere in the world”.

(via. And yes, I’ve been reading the Log so infrequently that I needed outside prompting to see this post)