The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 5/29 - Jacopo Romoli

LFRG will have several special meetings over the summer, including Yasutada Sudo and Patrick Elliott (6/3) and Matthijs Westera (6/6). The first of these is detailed here.

Speaker: Jacopo Romoli (Ulster)
Title: Redundancy and the notion of local context
Date/Time: Thursday, May 29, 2pm
Location: 32-D831

(Joint work with Clemens Mayr.)

In this talk, I discuss novel data which are problematic for Stalnaker’s (1979) non-redundancy condition, requiring not to assert something that is already presupposed. This condition has been extended to the local level, so that a sentence is deemed not assertible if it contains any part that is redundant in its local context (Fox 2008, Schlenker 2009, Singh 2007 among many others). The problem for this approach comes from disjunctions like Either Mary isn’t pregnant or (she is) and it doesn’t show. The optional presence of she is (pregnant) – a locally redundant part – is not readily predicted by the non-redundancy condition. These data are even more puzzling if compared to corresponding conditionals like If Mary is pregnant, (#she is and) it doesn’t show where the she is (pregnant) part is unacceptable as predicted by the non-redundancy condition. In response to this puzzle, we propose a solution based on Schlenker’s (2009) parsing-based theory of local contexts. In this system, exhaustifying a sentence can modify the local contexts of its parts. As a consequence of this, she is (pregnant) is actually not redundant in the disjunctive sentence above, provided the latter is exhaustified. As we discuss, this solution is not available in an approach like dynamic semantics where local contexts are computed compositionally from the syntactic structure of the sentence in question (Heim 1983, Beaver 2001; see also Chierchia 2009). Therefore, our solution to the disjunctive puzzle above, if correct, is an argument for the parsing-based approach to local contexts. More in general, redundancy provides a testing ground for these two approaches to local contexts, which are provably equivalent in the domain of presupposition projection (Schlenker 2007, 2009). We discuss also other issues that the disjunctive case above raises in connection to exhaustification, presupposition projection, and the calculation of alternatives.