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MIT Colloquium 3/23: Judith Tonhauser (Ohio State University)

Speaker: Judith Tonhauser (Ohio State University)
Title: Categorical and gradient distinctions between content: Implications for theories of speaker presuppositions
Time: Friday, March 23rd, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155
Abstract:

One classic categorization of clause-embedding predicates is based on introspective judgments about what follows from utterances of sentences like those in (1) and their interrogative variants in (2). First, the content of the clausal complement in these examples, that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds, is taken to logically follow from (1a) with _be right_ and (1b) with _know_, but not from (1c) with _believe_. Thus, the content of the clausal complement of _be right_ and _know_ is classified as an entailment, but not that of _believe_. Second, the content of the clausal complement tends to follows from the interrogative variant with _know_ in (2b), but not from the variants with _be right_ in (2a) or with _believe_ in (2c). Thus, because the content of the clausal complement of _know_ tends to project from under the question operator, _know_ is a ‘factive’ predicate and its complement is a presupposition, but because the content of the clausal complement of _be right_ and _believe_ is not projective, these are ‘non-factive’ predicates and their complements are not presuppositions.

(1) a. Kim is right that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds.

  1. Kim knows that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds.
  2. Kim believes that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds.

(2) a. Is Kim right that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds?

  1. Does Kim know that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds?
  2. Does Kim believe that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds?

In this talk, I present experimental evidence that suggests that distinguishing entailed from non-entailed clausal complements may not be as central to empirically adequate theories of speaker presupposition as sometimes assumed. Moreover, evidence from experiments and a corpus study challenges the categorical distinction between ‘factive’ and ‘non-factive’ predicates and instead suggests that projectivity is a gradient property of utterance content. In addition to discussing the implications of these findings for theories of projective content, I will deliberate on how they bear on the larger issue of categorical versus gradient generalizations about meaning.

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