Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Scalar Implicatures and Presupposition of Existence: Strawson-entailment and the Grammatical Theory [Special Issue]

Topics: Philosophy of language, Philosophy of mind, Theoretical philosophy
Keywords: Conceivability, Grammatical theory, Scalar implicatures, Strawson-entailment


Two strong contenders for scalar implicature (SI) computation are the pragmatic and the grammatical theories. While the former sustains that context plays a major role, the latter suggests context is required but is lexically and monotonically constrained (Chierchia 2012). In particular, this paper discusses a processing account for SIs that is dependent on the satisfaction of the Strawsonian presupposition of existence, necessary for the realization of the asymmetric entailment pattern among relevant alternatives. This observation complies with the principles of the grammatical view, for it predicts SIs in the presence of contextually empty domains, unlike the pragmatic account whose necessary access to contextual information will cause propositions with empty domains to always return a truth value false, hence blocking any inference.  I present online experimental evidence of an acceptability judgment task and recorded response times of both existential and universal sentences containing entities of three kinds: existent (type-a), non-existent but conceivable (type-b), and non-existent and inconceivable (type-c). The data of 25 Colombian Spanish speaking participants were collected using PsychoPy, powered by Pavlovia. The results suggest SIs are computed in types a and b but relatively unsuccessful in type-c. I conclude that the relevant entailment pattern for implicature computation is the Strawson-entailment relation which, combined with the grammatical account, correctly predicts SIs with non-existent but conceivable entities but avoids inference with inconceivable terms.

This paper intends to answer the following research questions: (i) Under which condition is the entailment pattern among alternatives possible? (ii) Can inferences be derived in the presence of contextually empty domains? Regarding (i), I will discuss the idea of a processing account for scalar implicature computation that is dependent on the satisfaction of the Strawsonian presupposition of existence, necessary for the relevant asymmetric entailment relation among relevant alternatives which is part of the grammatical theory pursued by Chierchia (2004) and Chierchia et al. (2012). As far as (ii) is concerned, my hypothesis is that SIs are computed in existential sentences featuring empty-conceivable terms but not necessarily computed with empty-inconceivable elements due to a conceivability restraint. First, section 2 introduces the theoretical discussion revolving around…


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