The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 4/26 - Nadine Bade

Speaker: Nadine Bade (Harvard, Tübingen)
Date/Time: 4/26 (Thu) 10-11.30 am
Location: 32-D831
Title: Obligatory Presuppositions and Exhaustive Interpretation


I will provide an analysis for the obligatory occurrence of some presupposition triggers in certain contexts which is based on formal non-Gricean approaches to implicatures (Chierchia (2004), Fox & Hackl (2006), Fox (2007), Chierchia, Fox & Spector (2011)). Presupposition triggers are obligatory in contexts in which it is clear that their presupposition is met. Examples of the phenomenon are given below.

(1) John came to the store.
(a) # Bill came to the store.
(b) Bill came to the store, too.

(2) Yesterday Jenna went ice skating.
(a) #She went ice skating today.
(b) She went ice skating today, again.

(a) The sun is shining.
(b) # A sun is shining.

(4) It is raining.
(a) #John believes it.
(b) John knows it.

Usually these facts are explained by exploiting a principle “Maximize Presupposition” (Heim (1991), Schlenker (2006), Sauerland (2008b), Percus (2006), Chemla (2008), Singh (2011)). Most of these proposals assume that lexical items or sentences are ordered on a scale with regard to their presuppositional strength. They predict that the sentence or item that is presuppositionally weaker will lead to a specific inference called “antipresupposition” or “implicated presupposition”. I argue that the obligatory insertion of a presupposition trigger follows from the fact that people have to interpret exhaustively in certain contexts. I assume that the trigger is inserted to avoid a contradiction that arises due to the implicature that is the result of this exhaustive interpretation. The present account is hence based on an independently needed mechanism and does not need to assume lexical scales of presuppositional strength or inferences with special status. Moreover, it provides an explanation for the fact that most triggers are not obligatory under negation which “Maximize Presupposition” fails to account for.