Asymmetry in presupposition projection: The case of conjunction

Semantics and Linguistic Theory 27 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Is the basic mechanism behind presupposition projection fundamentally asymmetric or symmetric? This is a basic question for the theory of presupposition, which also bears on broader issues concerning the source of asymmetries observed in natural language: are these simply rooted in superficial asymmetries of language use— language use unfolds in time, which we experience as fundamentally asymmetric— or can they be, at least in part, directly referenced in linguistic knowledge and representations? In this paper we aim to make progress on these questions by exploring presupposition projection across conjunction, which has typically been taken as a central piece of evidence that presupposition projection is asymmetric. As a number of authors have recently pointed out, however, whether or not this conclusion is warranted is not clear once we take into account independent issues of redundancy. Building on previous work by Chemla & Schlenker (2012) and Schwarz (2015), we approach this question experimentally by using an inference task which controls for redundancy and presupposition suspension. We find strong evidence for left-to-right filtering across conjunctions, but no evidence for right-to-left filtering, suggesting that, at least as a default, presupposition projection across conjunction is indeed asymmetric.

Author Profiles

Florian Schwarz
University of Pennsylvania
Matthew Mandelkern
New York University

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