Alrenga in Linguistics colloquium Fri. 9/28 at 3:30

Peter Alrenga (UMass) will present a Linguistics colloquium at 3:30 in ILC N400. A reception will follow. All are welcome!

Title: Implicature Suspension and Ignorance:  When Redundancy Isn’t Enough

Abstract. According to the classical neo-Gricean view,  scalar upper-bounding inferences such as (1) are conversational implicatures driven by the maxim of Quantity.

(1)    a.  Paws ate some of his dinner.
         Inference:  Paws did not eat all of his dinner.
    b.  This semester, I will enroll in Semantics or Phonology.
         Inference: I will not enroll in both Semantics and Phonology.
The ensuing theory of scalar implicatures, elaborated in pioneering work by Horn and Gazdar, was for many years viewed as a success story par excellence of neo-Gricean pragmatics.  According to a more recent view, the so-called grammatical view, these inferences do not arise via pragmatic reasoning, but are instead calculated as a part of these sentences’ truth-conditional meanings, via the presence of a local strengthening operator.  One of the most compelling arguments for the grammatical view comes from the contrast between (1a) and (2).  Informally, the underlined disjunct in (2) serves to call off, or “suspend”, the scalar not all-inference that usually accompanies (1a).  Instead, (2) serves to convey the speaker’s ignorance regarding exactly how much Grover ate (perhaps just some, but perhaps more than that).

(2)    Paws ate some or (even) all of his dinner.

Beneath this contrast lurks an intriguing question:  how is it that truth-conditionally equivalent sentences, such as (1a) and (2), may nonetheless give rise to differing scalar inferences?  In the first part of the talk, I will review the answer to this question that has emerged from the grammatical view.  I will then show that this same question arises across a variety of “suspension” devices, such as those in (3).

(3)    a.  Grover ate at least some of his dinner.
    b.  This semester, I will enroll in Semantics or Phonology, if not both.
    c.  This semester, I will enroll in Semantics and/or Phonology.

A welcome feature of the grammatical view is that its account of the speaker ignorance conveyed by (2) readily generalizes to the sentences in (3), as I will also show.

An even more recent line of work seeks to derive the difference between (1a) and (2) from considerations of structural complexity.  The idea is (roughly) this:  given that (1a) and (2) are truth-conditionally equivalent, the second disjunct in (2) appears to be semantically redundant, since the speaker could have conveyed the same information using the first disjunct alone.  The ignorance conveyed by (2), as well as the local strengthening that facilitates this, can then be made to follow if this sort of redundancy is in fact penalized.  In the second part of the talk, I will argue that this proposal, appealing though it is, does not readily generalize to the sentences in (3).  Finally, I will offer some (programmatic) suggestions for what might instead account for the difference between (1) and (2)/(3).
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