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First things first: The pragmatics of “natural order”

Laurence Horn

Laurence Horn is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Philosophy at Yale University. He is the author of A Natural History of Negation (Chicago, 1989; CSLI, 2001) and over 100 papers and handbook entries on negation, polarity, implicature, presupposition, pragmatic theory, word meaning, grammatical variation, and lying. His PhD dissertation (UCLA, 1972) introduced scalar implicature. His six (co-)edited volumes include The Handbook of Pragmatics (Blackwell, 2004; co-edited with Gregory Ward) and Pragmatics, Truth and Underspecification (Brill, 2018; co-edited with Ken Turner). He is an elected fellow of the Linguistic Society of America and edited the Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics series (Garland/Routledge).

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From the journal Intercultural Pragmatics


Classical rhetoricians dating back to Aristotle sought to define the principles of natural order that determine priority in sequences, especially in linguistic representations. Among the principles with the widest predictive power for the ancients and their modern heirs are those stating that A can be prior to B “with respect to temporal order”, that A can be prior to B with respect to what is “known or less informative” than what comes later, and that A can be prior to B with respect to what is “better” or “more worthy”. But when and how do these ordering principles influence the form of linguistic sequences, and how are conflicts between the principles resolved? What determines the priority between the principles of priority? What makes “natural order” natural? Drawing on over two millennia of scholarship, we explore the pragmatic motivation for the primary ordering principles, and in particular for those affecting the order of logically symmetric but rhetorically asymmetric conjunctions.

About the author

Laurence Horn

Laurence Horn is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Philosophy at Yale University. He is the author of A Natural History of Negation (Chicago, 1989; CSLI, 2001) and over 100 papers and handbook entries on negation, polarity, implicature, presupposition, pragmatic theory, word meaning, grammatical variation, and lying. His PhD dissertation (UCLA, 1972) introduced scalar implicature. His six (co-)edited volumes include The Handbook of Pragmatics (Blackwell, 2004; co-edited with Gregory Ward) and Pragmatics, Truth and Underspecification (Brill, 2018; co-edited with Ken Turner). He is an elected fellow of the Linguistic Society of America and edited the Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics series (Garland/Routledge).


“First Things First” was presented at Pragmasophia 2 (Lisbon, 2018). Earlier versions were given at CIL 19 (Geneva, 2013), at the CUNY Pragmatics Workshop: Relevance, Game Theory, and Communication (2014), at AMPRA [American Pragmatics Association] 2 (UCLA, 2014), and the University of Cologne (2016). I thank (better late than never!) the audiences at those presentations (and in particular Istvan Kecskes, Klaus von Heusinger, and Petra Schumacher) as well as Barbara Abbott, Mira Ariel, Betty Birner, Bob Frank, Michael Israel, Paul Kay, Gregory Ward, and Ben Zimmer for judgments, discussion, and encouragement. Empirical work on reverse substitute was supported in part by NSF grant BCS-1423872: The Microsyntax of Pronouns in North American English; thanks to Jim Wood and Raffaella Zanuttini, and other collaborators on the grant. I am indebted to the American Dialect Society e-mail list, the Yale Grammatical Diversity group, and the participants in the University of Geneva winter school (Dec. 2015) in Macolin, Switzerland for data and feedback and to Arnold Zwicky and David Denison for helpful guidance. Thanks to Huber (1974), a work I have not been able to consult, for providing the Section § 4 header. Last but not least (#not least but last), everyone but me is absolved of any errors.


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Published Online: 2019-05-29
Published in Print: 2019-05-27

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