LISI: Lexical Inference vs Scalar Implicature

Principal investigator:
PD Dr. Ulrich Sauerland (ZAS Berlin)

Funding period:
2017-2020; this project is a continuation of “SSI: The Strength of Scalar Inference: From Numbers to Strong Disjunction”

Project description:
Grice’s notion of implicature presupposes a distinction between pragmatically derived and lexically defined content. This distinction is central to all accounts of implicature, but the precise delineation remains difficult and often controversial. A case at hand are analyses of scalar implicature via silent exhaustification operators in the syntactic structure. Under such an analysis, lexical content and implicature both contribute to truth-conditional meaning, and fewer differences between the two meaning components are expected to be observed, for example in their processing, cancelability, and embeddability. At the same time, the greater power of an exhaustification analysis amplifies the need to better understand the distinction of lexical and derived content and the restrictions on the exhaustification mechanism to avoid over-generation. This project targets a broad array of cases central to this distinction between lexical content and implicature. We consider four typologically diverse languages using both theoretical and experimental diagnostics. In addition we compare the set of alternatives required for quantity- vs. manner-related effects. The empirical findings will put us in a strong position to formulate a novel account of scalar alternative sets and exhaustification. Our working hypothesis is that the make-up of the alternative set involved in deriving a given meaning component correlates with a distinct psycholinguistic profile identifiable in the interpretation and derivation of the relevant meaning component.
Specifically, the working hypothesis postulates three categories of meaning components: A) lexical content, which is independent of the alternative set, B) strong implicatures derived from only subconstituent and numeral alternatives, and C) weak implicatures based on lexical scales such as the ‘some’-‘all’-scale. This main hypothesis will be tested by addressing eight open empirical questions: 1) Can all cases of Free Choice disjunction receive a pragmatic explanation?, 2) Can Free Choice inferences be primed by other kinds of implicatures and if so, which ones? 3) Do variable force connectives in Warlpiri and Japanese on the one hand, and 4) variable force modals in St’at’imcets on the other hand, exhibit the psycholinguistic profile of other implicatures? 5) When are free choice effects with indefinites and 6) variable force of connectives acquired by children? 7) Which phenomena can exhibit non-local implicatures and implicature cancellation when embedded under non-monotone logical operators? 8) Do manner effects and scalar implicatures which involve the same alternatives exhibit the same processsing profile? In pursuing these eight empirical goals, we will establishimportant new evidence in the controversy about lexical vs. implicaturebased meaning, enabling us to revise our working hypothesis on the basis of diverse and broad observations.