Indicatives, Subjunctives, and the Falsity of the Antecedent

Cognitive Science 45 (11):e13058 (2021)
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It is widely held that there are important differences between indicative conditionals (e.g. “If the authors are linguists, they have written a linguistics paper”) and subjunctive conditionals (e.g. “If the authors had been linguists, they would have written a linguistics paper”). A central difference is that indicatives and subjunctives convey different stances towards the truth of their antecedents. Indicatives (often) convey neutrality: for example, about whether the authors in question are linguists. Subjunctives (often) convey the falsity of the antecedent: for example, that the authors in question are not linguists. This paper tests prominent accounts of how these different stances are conveyed: whether by presupposition or conversational implicature. Experiment 1 tests the presupposition account by investigating whether the stances project – remain constant – when embedded under operators like negations, possibility modals, and interrogatives, a key characteristic of presuppositions. Experiment 2 tests the conversational-implicature account by investigating whether the stances can be cancelled without producing a contradiction, a key characteristic of implicatures. The results provide evidence that both stances – neutrality about the antecedent in indicatives and the falsity of the antecedent in subjunctives – are conveyed by conversational implicatures.

Author's Profile

Niels Skovgaard-Olsen
University of Freiburg


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