The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LF Reading Group 4/10 - Christopher Baron (MIT)

Speaker: Christopher Baron (MIT)
Title: Entailments, implicatures, and absolute adjectives
Time: Wednesday, April 10th, 1-2PM
Location: 32-D461

Absolute adjectives like straight and bent give rise to interesting entailments and implicatures when they occur in degree constructions; the [a] and [b] examples below are comparatives, and the [c] examples are degree achievements.

  1. [a] Bar A is straighter than it was before.
    [b] Bar A is straighter than Bar B is.
    [c] Bar A straightened.
  2. [a] Bar C is more bent than it was before.
    [b] Bar C is more bent than Bar B is.
    [c] Bar C bent

(1a) and (1c) entail that Bar A wasn’t completely straight before; (1b) entail that Bar B isn’t completely straight. However, (1a) and (1b) seem to imply that Bar A isn’t completely straight, whereas (1c) seems to imply that it is completely straight (now). The examples in (2) are similar. All three entail that Bar C is bent (now). (2a) seems to imply that Bar C was already bent, and (2b) seems to imply that Bar B is also bent. However, (2c) seems to imply that Bar C wasn’t bent before. 

I’ll argue that this implied content really is implicature, rather than entailment or presupposition, and explore and expand on accounts of some (but not all) of these implicatures (e.g. Kennedy 2007). Furthermore, I’ll explore various possibilities for the apparent reversal in implicature with degree achievements, and argue that none of the obvious solutions are quite appealing. I leave open for now, however, a positive account of these data.