It has historically been assumed that comparative and superlative quantifiers can be semantically analysed in accordance with their core logical–mathematical properties. However, recent theoretical and experimental work has cast doubt on the validity of this assumption. Geurts & Nouwen have claimed that superlative quantifiers possess an additional modal component in their semantics that is absent from comparative quantifiers and that this accounts for the previously neglected differences in usage and interpretation between the two types of quantifier that they identify. Their (...) semantically modal hypothesis has received additional support from empirical investigations. In this article, we further corroborate that superlative quantifiers have additional modal interpretations. However, we propose an alternative analysis, whereby these quantifiers possess the semantics postulated by the classical model and the additional aspects of meaning arise as a consequence of psychological complexity and pragmatic implicature. We explain how this model is consistent with the existing empirical findings. Additionally, we present the findings of four novel experiments that support our model above the semantically modal account. (shrink)
In this paper I discuss some of the criteria that are widely used in the linguistic and philosophical literature to classify an aspect of meaning as either semantic or pragmatic. With regards to the case of scalar implicature (e.g. some Fs are G implying that not all Fs are G), these criteria are not ultimately conclusive, either in the results of their application, or in the interpretation of the results with regards to the semantics/pragmatics distinction (or in both). I propose (...) a psychologically relevant criterion, that of the primary or secondary role of context. This criterion applies to sub-personal processes that derive the interpretation of a scalar term rather than to the eventual interpretation of the term, and there exist well-established experimental paradigms that can generate quantitative data. I present recent studies on scalar implicature which employ such off-line and real-time paradigms, aiming to demonstrate how research on the semantics/pragmatics distinction can benefit from experimental investigation. (shrink)
In this paper, we compare the formal semantics approach to genericity, within which genericity is viewed as a species of quantification, and a growing body of experimental and developmental work on the topic, mainly by psychologists rather than linguists, proposing that genericity is categorically different from quantification. We argue that this generics-as-default hypothesis is much less well supported by evidence than its supporters contend, and that a research program combining theoretical and experimental research methods and considerations in the same studies (...) is required to make progress. (shrink)
Two experiments investigated whether 4- and 5-year-old children are sensitive to whether the content of a generalization is about a salient or noteworthy property (henceforth “striking”) and whether varying the number of exceptions has any effect on children’s willingness to extend a property after having heard a generalization. Moreover, they investigated how the content of a generalization interacts with exception tolerance. Adult data were collected for comparison. We used generalizations to describe novel kinds (e.g., “glippets”) that had either a neutral (...) (e.g., “play with toys”) or a striking property (e.g., “play with fire”) and measured how willing participants were to extend the property to a new instance of the novel kind. Experiment 1 demonstrated that both adults and children show sensitivity to strikingness in that striking properties were extended less than neutral ones, although children extended less than adults overall. The responses of both age groups were significantly different from chance. Experiment 2 introduced varying numbers of exceptions to the generalization made (minimal: 1 exception; maximal: 3 exceptions). Both adults and children extended both types of properties even in the face of exceptions, but to a lower degree than in Experiment 1. Striking properties were extended less than neutral ones, as in Experiment 1. We observed that the greater the number of exceptions, the lower the rates of extension we obtained, for both types of properties in adults, but only with striking properties in children. Children seemed to keep track of varying numbers of exceptions for striking properties, but their performance did not differ from chance. The findings underscore that 4- and 5-year-old children are sensitive to strikingness and to exception tolerance for generalizations and are developing toward an adult-like behavior with respect to the interplay between strikingness and exception tolerance when they learn about novel kinds. We discuss the implications of these results with regards to how children make generalizations. (shrink)
The behaviour of presupposition triggers in human language has been extensively studied and given rise to many distinct theoretical proposals. One intuitively appealing way of characterising presupposition is to argue that it constitutes backgrounded meaning, which does not contribute to updating the conversational record, and consequently may not be challenged or refuted by discourse participants. However, there are a wide range of presupposition triggers, some of which can systematically be used to introduce new information. Is there, then, a clear psychological (...) distinction between presupposition and assertion? Do certain expressions vacillate between presupposing and asserting information? And is information backgrounding a categorical or a gradient phenomenon? In this paper we argue for the value of experimental methods in addressing these questions, and present a pilot study demonstrating backgrounding effects of presupposition triggers, and suggesting their gradience in nature. We discuss the implications of these findings for theoretical categorisations of presupposition triggers. (shrink)
This handbook is the first to explore the growing field of experimental semantics and pragmatics. Following an introduction from the editors, the chapters in this volume offer an up-to-date account of research in the field spanning 31 different topics, as well as identifying questions and methods for future research.
Children who grow up exposed to more than one language face a range of challenges and developmental environments which differ from those of monolinguals. Recently, studies have suggested that this may lead to differences in the development of pragmatic skills and sensitivity to socio-pragmatic cues. We investigate whether bilingually exposed children are able to make further use of these cues in an ostensive teaching setting for word learning in a sample of 110 children aged 4 to 6 years old and (...) find evidence that bilingual children do perform significantly better in ostensive teaching settings when asked to use pragmatic cues to derive the meaning of a novel word. We discuss implications for theories of pragmatics and bilingual development. (shrink)
Binary judgement on under-informative utterances is the most widely used methodology to test children’s ability to generate implicatures. Accepting under-informative utterances is considered a failure to generate implicatures. We present off-line and reaction time evidence for the Pragmatic Tolerance Hypothesis, according to which some children who accept under-informative utterances are in fact competent with implicature but do not consider pragmatic violations grave enough to reject the critical utterance. Seventy-five Dutch-speaking four to nine-year-olds completed a binary and a ternary judgement task. (...) Half of the children who accepted an utterance in Experiment A penalised it in Experiment B. Reaction times revealed that these children experienced a slow-down in the critical utterances in Experiment A, suggesting that they detected the pragmatic violation even though they did not reject it. We propose that binary judgement tasks systematically underestimate children’s competence with pragmatics. (shrink)