Oddness, modularity, and exhaustification

Natural Language Semantics 29 (1):115-158 (2021)
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According to the `grammatical account', scalar implicatures are triggered by a covert exhaustification operator present in logical form. This account covers considerable empirical ground, but there is a peculiar pattern that resists treatment given its usual implementation. The pattern centers on odd assertions like #"Most lions are mammals" and #"Some Italians come from a beautiful country", which seem to trigger implicatures in contexts where the enriched readings conflict with information in the common ground. Magri (2009, 2011) argues that, to account for these cases, the basic grammatical approach has to be supplemented with the stipulations that exhaustification is obligatory and is based on formal computations which are blind to information in the common ground. In this paper, I argue that accounts of oddness should allow for the possibility of felicitous assertions that call for revision of the common ground, including explicit assertions of unusual beliefs such as "Most but not all lions are mammals" and "Some but not all Italians come from Italy". To adequately cover these and similar cases, I propose that Magri's version of the Grammatical account should be refined with the novel hypothesis that exhaustification triggers a bifurcation between presupposed (the negated relevant alternatives) and at-issue (the prejacent) content. The explanation of the full oddness pattern, including cases of felicitous proposals to revise the common ground, follows from the interaction between presupposed and at-issue content with an independently motivated constraint on accommodation. Finally, I argue that treating the exhaustification operator as a presupposition trigger helps solve various independent puzzles faced by extant grammatical accounts, and motivates a substantial revision of standard accounts of the overt exhaustifier "only".

Author's Profile

Guillermo Del Pinal
University of Massachusetts, Amherst


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