Scalar Implicatures and Grammar

Benjamin Spector – Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 1:30-3:20 pm
2325 Mason Hall

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Pragmatics studies the interactions of linguistic meaning, as determined by grammatical compositional mechanisms, with inferential processes that involve reasoning about speakers’ communicative intentions. In recent years, pragmatics has started being studied with as rigorous techniques as those used in formal semantics, giving rise to the relatively new field of Formal Pragmatics. One of the results of this trend has been that certain widely accepted assumptions about the division of labor between semantics and pragmatics have been challenged. One of this course’s goals is to enable students to understand these recent debates. We will focus on one particular type of inference, known as scalar implicatures, whose status is currently under debate; while the traditional, Gricean view conceives of them as paradigmatic cases of pragmatic inferences, it has been recently argued that they should rather be thought of as a grammatical phenomenon. We will present in a detailed way the various arguments of the two sides of the debate. As we’ll see, they appear to involve a variety of linguistic phenomena, such as the interpretation of interrogative clauses, focus-marking and focus-sensitive operators, modal environments, the interpretation of number and gender features, numerals, negative polarity items, free-choice items… . We will also discuss a few experimental studies which are relevant to the theory of scalar implicatures and related issues.  Students enrolling in this course should have significant background knowledge in formal semantics or/and logic (typically at the level of a graduate or advanced undergraduate introductory class).

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