The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 11/21 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch
Title: Presupposition projection and incremental processing in disjunction
Date/Time: Thursday, Nov. 21, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

Presupposition projection in conjunction shows asymmetries sensitive to the linear order of the conjuncts: presuppositions project cumulatively out of the first conjunct, and out of the second conjunct only if not entailed by the asserted content of the first conjunct. One possibility is that this asymmetry is linked to general processing considerations. This predicts similar asymmetries to be observable in complex sentences with other sentential connectives. A well-known counter-example is disjunction. The existence presupposition triggered by the definite description the bathroom does not project in (1) (Partee 2005), independent of order:

(1) Either there is no bathroom, or the bathroom is in a funny place.
Either the bathroom is in a funny place, or there is no bathroom.

The aim in this talk is to show that disjunction in fact does show linear order asymmetries consistent with conjunction, and is directly supportive of presupposition evaluation being integrated with incremental parsing.

We build the argument in three steps. (i) We identify a confound in (1) which interferes with projection in both orders, making (1) not a fair test case for global projective asymmetry (Gazdar 1979). (ii) We construct new examples which remove the confound, and show that to the extent that these elicit a stable intuition, the intuition is asymmetric. (iii) We report experimental results demonstrating that even with the confound in place, examples like (1) show traces of asymmetry at an intermediate stage of parsing, predicted by the processing account we advocate.