Scalar Implicatures <i>or</i> Focus: An Experimental Approach

Author: Arjen Zondervan
LOT Number: 249
ISBN: 978-94-6093-031-7
Pages: 423
Year: 2010
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Scalar Implicatures or Focus: An Experimental Approach

This dissertation is about one of the most robust and widespread types of prag-
matic meaning in natural language: scalar implicatures (SIs). A scalar impli-
cature is the inference that when a speaker uses a linguistic item that is on a
scale with another item, the hearer concludes the sentence with the stronger
scale member does not hold. For instance the inferences from It was okay to It
was not excellent and from Some students passed to Not all students passed are
scalar implicatures. It is widely acknowledged that these inferences are con-
text-dependent, yet little is known about the properties of the context that de-
termine their presence or absence. This thesis aims to contribute to the filling
of this gap by considering the relation between SIs and the contextual property
of information focus. Additionally, it addresses the psychological reality of the
view that the exclusive reading of or, on which A or B means A or B but not both,
comes about by an SI.

The thesis addresses these questions through a set of 11 experiments, both off-
line (questionnaires) and on-line (processing). Next to the relation between SIs
and focus, these experiments consider relevance of the stronger scalar alterna-
tive, the processing cost of SI-calculation, the assumption of speaker expertise
and the relation between SIs and exhaustivity. The results support the predic-
tion that information focus affects SI-calculation. However, the array of data
taken together raise doubts about the view that the exclusive reading of or is
the result of a scalar implicature.

The author discusses and tests theoretical insights from truth-conditional se-
mantics, logic, pragmatics and reasoning as well as insights and results from
(experimental) psycholinguistics, so this dissertation should be of interest to
scholars in any of these domains.

Scalar Implicatures or Focus: An Experimental Approach

This dissertation is about one of the most robust and widespread types of prag-
matic meaning in natural language: scalar implicatures (SIs). A scalar impli-
cature is the inference that when a speaker uses a linguistic item that is on a
scale with another item, the hearer concludes the sentence with the stronger
scale member does not hold. For instance the inferences from It was okay to It
was not excellent and from Some students passed to Not all students passed are
scalar implicatures. It is widely acknowledged that these inferences are con-
text-dependent, yet little is known about the properties of the context that de-
termine their presence or absence. This thesis aims to contribute to the filling
of this gap by considering the relation between SIs and the contextual property
of information focus. Additionally, it addresses the psychological reality of the
view that the exclusive reading of or, on which A or B means A or B but not both,
comes about by an SI.

The thesis addresses these questions through a set of 11 experiments, both off-
line (questionnaires) and on-line (processing). Next to the relation between SIs
and focus, these experiments consider relevance of the stronger scalar alterna-
tive, the processing cost of SI-calculation, the assumption of speaker expertise
and the relation between SIs and exhaustivity. The results support the predic-
tion that information focus affects SI-calculation. However, the array of data
taken together raise doubts about the view that the exclusive reading of or is
the result of a scalar implicature.

The author discusses and tests theoretical insights from truth-conditional se-
mantics, logic, pragmatics and reasoning as well as insights and results from
(experimental) psycholinguistics, so this dissertation should be of interest to
scholars in any of these domains.

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