Syntax/Semantics reading group, 09/24 – Alex Göbel

The first syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Thursday February 24 at 1:30pm. Please register in advance at the following link in order to join meetings:

For our fist meeting, postdoc Alex Göbel will present work entitled On the role of Focus-sensitivity for a typology of presupposition triggers. We will also set up the schedule for the Semester, so feel free to come with ideas!
Abstract: Presupposition triggers have been noted to make up a heterogeneous set that varies along multiple dimensions. In this presentation, I investigate the role of Focus-sensitivity for such a typology of presupposition triggers. The hypothesis I will be testing is that triggers differ in the mental representations they access depending on whether they are Focus-sensitive or not. For triggers lacking Focus-sensitivity, such as `again’, I hypothesize that their presupposition needs to be entailed by the Common Ground, in line with the classic treatment by Stalnaker. In contrast, Focus-sensitive triggers like `also’ require a linguistic antecedent in the discourse model. I present experimental data evaluating two predictions of this hypothesis. The first prediction is that the salience of the linguistic material satisfying a given presupposition should matter for Focus-sensitive triggers, analogous to how salience affects pronoun processing. In contrast, triggers lacking Focus-sensitivity should not be sensitive to salience in the same way, with a possible analogy being the way in which the order of premises is relevant to the validity of a conclusion in a syllogism. The second prediction is that Focus-sensitive triggers will be harder to globally accommodate than triggers lacking Focus-sensitivity, on the assumption that the Common Ground is subject to cooperative principles that render accommodation a standard practice of communication, whereas constructing the linguistic material required for an antecedent is not subject to those principles. I conclude with some discussion of the broader theoretical implications of the experimental results.

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