Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Janet Dean Fodor

Committee Members

Martin Chodorow

Samer Al Khatib

Subject Categories

Other Linguistics | Semantics and Pragmatics


exclusives, negative polarity items, online experimental study, experimental semantics


Throughout much of the theoretical semantic literature, the two exclusives only and just have been assumed identical in their structures and semantics. This manuscript contests that assumption, using parallel examples with negative polarity items (NPIs) and modals to demonstrate the asymmetry of these exclusives. After reviewing the existing theoretical literature, I utilize these examples to inform an experimental study centering around NPIs. This experiment (influenced by Chemla, Homer, and Rothschild (2011)) employs an acceptability judgment task where participants (n=90) are asked to judge sentences containing negation, only, and just (both with and without NPIs) on a 6-point scale.

Using a mixed effects model, the findings reveal a significant main effect for version (just vs. only) and a significant effect for presence or lack of an NPI, but no significant difference between just without an NPI and only without an NPI. Together, these results strongly suggest that participants find little or no difference in acceptability of sentences with these exclusives without the presence of NPIs, but a large degree of difference in acceptability of sentences containing these same exclusives with NPIs. This supports a theory where these two exclusives are different in nature. I propose my own theory, which promotes the idea of embracing two different sets of structures and semantics, and demonstrate its benefits and shortcomings.