ExCl: Exhaustivity in Cleft Sentences

Principal investigators:
Prof. Dr. Edgar Onea
Universität Göttingen
Prof. Dr. Malte Zimmermann
Universität Potsdam

Funding period:
2014-2017; this project is continued by “ExQ: Exhaustiveness in embedded questions across languages”

Project description:
There has been a long-standing debate in the theoretical literature at the semantics-pragmatics interface regarding exhaustivity in cleft sentences. While in recent years the majority of theoretical approaches tends towards a semantic analysis of the phenomenon of exhaustivity in clefts (see, e.g., Velleman et al 2012, Büring and Kriz 2013), new experimental studies (e.g., Onea and Beaver 2009, Drenhaus et. al 2011, Washburn et al. 2013) rather support the pragmatic position; cf. Horn (1981). At closer inspection, however, the experimental studies appear not to be entirely conclusive. This is primarily due to the difference between at-issue and non-at-issue inferences (see, e.g., Tonhauser et. al. 2013) not being sufficiently taken into consideration. Moreover, existing studies were not systematically handled.
In this project we aim to bridge the divide between several theoretical analyses of cleft sentences and the experimental literature through a series of systematic experiments which will allow one to answer the question whether clefts are semantically or pragmatically exhaustive. Our experiments are able to check subtle differences in the predictions made by diverse theories on exhaustivity in clefts, for instance, the predictions from theories that ascribe exhaustivity to implicatures, conditional presuppositions, maximality presuppositions, and (non-)at-issueness. The predictions which we are concentrating on concern contextual enrichment dependent on factors such as salience, expectation, and crosslinguistic differences.

Website of the project at Potsdam University