Oliver and Smiley on the Collective–Distributive Opposition (pages 201-205)

Gustavo PICAZO

ABSTRACT: Two objections are raised against Oliver and Smiley’s analysis of the collective–distributive opposition in their 2016 book: (1) They take it as a basic premise that the collective reading of ‘baked a cake’ corresponds to a predicate different from its distributive reading, and the same applies to all predicate expressions that admit both a collective and a distributive interpretation. At the same time, however, they argue that inflectional forms of the same lexeme (such as ‘is a man’ and ‘are men’) reveal a univocity that should be preserved in a formal representation of English. These two assumptions sit uneasily. (2) In developing their analysis, Oliver and Smiley come to the conclusion that even a singular predication such as ‘Tom baked a cake’ must be regarded as ambiguous between a collective and a distributive reading. This is so artificial that it hardly makes sense, and yet there seems to be no way out of the difficulty unless we are prepared to give up the basic premise just mentioned.

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