Contrafactives and Learnability

In Marco Degano, Tom Roberts, Giorgio Sbardolini & Marieke Schouwstra (eds.), Proceedings of the 23rd Amsterdam Colloquium. pp. 298-305 (2022)
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Richard Holton has drawn attention to a new semantic universal, according to which (almost) no natural language has contrafactive attitude verbs. This semantic universal is part of an asymmetry between factive and contrafactive attitude verbs. Whilst factives are abundant, contrafactives are scarce. We propose that this asymmetry is partly due to a difference in learnability. The meaning of contrafactives is significantly harder to learn than that of factives. We tested our hypothesis by conducting a computational experiment using an artificial neural network. The results of this experiment support our hypothesis.

Author Profiles

Simon Wimmer
TU Dortmund
David Strohmaier
Cambridge University


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