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In academic literature, the 'free-choice' any and the 'polarity sensitive' any are often discussed, when in fact the latter is the 'negative polarity' any.

In the majority of the cases, authors call the any 'polarity sensitive' any. Is it more accurate to call it that because there is some exceptions within the category of 'negative polarity' anys? Or, is it because historically people have been accustomed to using it?

  • Polarity is a metaphor, based on magnetism, to refer to the relation between a linguistic operator (normally negation, quantification, or modality) and its focus item in an utterance. They are linked, in other words, like an NPI and the negative licensing it, or a quantifier and the NP it determines. Saying that a lexical item is polarity-sensitive simply doesn't specify the operator. However, since any is an NPI, it's negative-polarity-sensitive. It's not more accurate either way; it's just another way of referring. Plus NPI any is much more frequent than free-choice any. – John Lawler Jan 6 '18 at 16:19
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    Thanks, John. So in a nutshell it's been used assuming everyone feels at the same time that authors are pointing to negative polarity because the tendency is well known. – Sssamy Jan 8 '18 at 1:04
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"Negative polarity" items aren't only used in negative sentences, but also in interrogative sentences, for example ("Do you have any money?"). Perhaps this is the reason some authors prefer the term "polarity sensitive".

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In a comment, John Lawler wrote:

Polarity is a metaphor, based on magnetism, to refer to the relation between a linguistic operator (normally negation, quantification, or modality) and its focus item in an utterance. They are linked, in other words, like an NPI and the negative licensing it, or a quantifier and the NP it determines. Saying that a lexical item is polarity-sensitive simply doesn't specify the operator. However, since any is an NPI, it's negative-polarity-sensitive. It's not more accurate either way; it's just another way of referring. Plus NPI any is much more frequent than free-choice any.

  • I can't make any sense of that. – Hot Licks Apr 6 '18 at 1:54

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