Free relatives with -ever: free choice and uncertainty
In a non-modal environment, free relatives with -ever (who-/what-/whichever-phrases) give rise to modal implications. An epistemic implication is manifested in the so-called ignorance reading (Dayal 1997), a counterfactual implication in the so-called indifference reading (von Fintel 2000). For instance, (1) signals the speaker's uncertainty about the identity of the person who entered the house last; (2) signals (intentional or unintentional) indiscriminateness about the response.
(1) Whoever entered the house last saw what happened. [Ignorance]
==> I do not know who it is that entered the house last.
(2) In response, I blurted out whatever came to my mind first. [Indifference]
==> If something different had come to my mind first, I would have blurted out that thing (instead).
I show that these implications are a special case of free choice effects and arise as a result of the types of alternatives -ever free relatives are associated with and the enriched meaning contributed by the alternatives. For a free relative with descriptive content P, the alternatives are properties more specific than P along a contextually given dimension. The alternatives are operated on by an anti-exhaustivity operator, as in Chierchia (2006), at the propositional or the assertion level. Anti-exhaustivity at the propositional level gives rise to a strengthened meaning, of which indifference readings are a special case, whereas anti-exhaustivity at the assertion level gives rise to a condition on the common ground, ultimately resulting in ignorance implications. The analysis accounts for the generalization that modal implications are always present with semantically singular free relatives but can disappear with plural free relatives, as noted by Dayal (1997). It also offers an explanation for the following asymmetry observed by von Fintel (2000): the indifference implication is part of truth-conditional content in embedded contexts, while the ignorance implication projects out of embedded contexts like a presupposition.
Condoravdi, C. Free relatives with -ever: free choice and uncertainty. Invited talk at the University of Maryland; 2008 October 30; College Park, MD.