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Theoretical Linguistics

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Be Articulate: A pragmatic theory of presupposition projection

Philippe Schlenker1

1Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS; Département d'Études Cognitives, École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France; New York University.

Citation Information: Theoretical Linguistics. Volume 34, Issue 3, Pages 157–212, ISSN (Online) 1613-4060, ISSN (Print) 0301-4428, DOI: 10.1515/THLI.2008.013, December 2008

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In the 1980's, the analysis of presupposition projection contributed to a ‘dynamic turn’ in semantics: the classical notion of meanings as truth conditions was replaced with a dynamic notion of meanings as Context Change Potentials (Heim 1983). We explore an alternative in which presupposition projection follows from the combination of a fully classical semantics with two pragmatic principles of manner, Be Articulate and Be Brief. Be Articulate is a violable constraint which requires that a meaning pp′, conceptualized as involving a pre-condition p (its ‘presupposition’), should be articulated as … (p and pp′) … (e.g. … it is raining and John knows it …) rather than as … pp′ …. Be Brief, which is more highly ranked than Be Articulate, disallows a full conjunction whose first element is semantically idle. In particular, … (p and pp′) … is ruled out by Be Brief – and hence … pp′ … is acceptable despite Be Articulate – if one can determine as soon as p and is uttered that no matter how the sentence ends these words could be eliminated without affecting its contextual meaning. Two equivalence theorems guarantee that these principles derive Heim's results in almost all cases. Unlike dynamic semantics, our analysis does not encode in the meaning of connectives the left-right asymmetry which is often found in presupposition projection; instead, we give a flexible analysis of this incremental bias, which allows us to account for some ‘symmetric readings’ in which the bias is overridden (e.g. If the bathroom is not hidden, this house has no bathroom).

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