Flexible Acceptance Condition of Generics from a Probabilistic Viewpoint: Towards Formalization of the Semantics of Generics

Journal Of Psycholinguistic Research (2022)
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Formalization of the semantics of generics has been considered extremely challenging for their inherent vagueness and context-dependence that hinder a single fixed truth condition. The present study suggests a way to formalize the semantics of generics by constructing flexible acceptance conditions with comparative probabilities. Findings from our in-depth psycholinguistic experiment show that two comparative probabilities—cue validity and prevalence—indeed construct the flexible acceptance conditions for generics in a systematic manner that can be applied to a diverse types of generics: Acceptability of IS_A relational generics is mostly determined by prevalence without interaction with cue validity; feature-describing generics are endorsed acceptable with high cue validity, albeit mediated by prevalence; and acceptability of feature-describing generics with low cue validity is mostly determined by prevalence irrespective of cue validity. Such systematic patterns indicate a great potential for the formalization of the semantics of generics.

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