June 13, 2006

For semanticists only

This post is exclusively for semanticists. If you are not a semanticist, do not try to solve the problem below. Do not even read it.

Medical warning. If after working on the problem below for a while you find beads of blood on your forehead, cease work and consult a physician. Problem void where prohibited. Common side effects include increased heart rate, tunnel vision, loss of peripheral vision, throwing pencil across room, and screaming.

Consider the following sentence, from Jeremy Latham's blog for March 2006:

All someone needs to do now is snap a few pictures.

Your task: using a suitable logical language with a suitable signature (say which one you are assuming), provide a full semantic representation for the sentence, taking care to get the truth conditions right, and in particular, making sure you assign the correct scopes to (i) the universal quantifier "all", (ii) the existential quantifier "some(one)", (iii) the necessitative modal operator "needs", and (iv) the paucal quantifier "a few".

(By the way, there is nothing special about the sort of phrase involved here, and certainly nothing deviant about it. You are not being asked to comment on any error or strangeness. This is straightforward English. A very similar usage occurred in The Economist on June 3 [p. 31, bottom]: "Now all someone needs to do is invent a paper car", where the task would be just about exactly the same.)

All some semanticist needs to do now is to adjudicate between the solutions offered, so that the prize can be awarded. We deal solely in the best here at Language Log; the expert we have engaged for this task is perhaps the world's greatest. Send your answer on a postcard to him, please. The address is:

Professor Laurence Horn
P.O. Box 208366
Department of Linguistics
Yale University
New Haven, CT 06520-8366
Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at June 13, 2006 09:20 AM