Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft Leibniz-Gemeinschaft

Dr. Itai Bassi

Free choice and presuppositional exhaustification

Speaker Itai Bassi, Guillermo del Pinal & Uli Sauerland
Date 07.12.2021
Time 16:15 o'clock
Venue Online
Zoom link

Meeting ID:  659 9922 0148

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Sentences such as "Olivia can take Logic or Algebra" (‘◇∨-sentences’) are typically assigned the ‘Free Choice’ (FC) reading that Olivia can take Logic and can take Algebra. Given a standard semantics for modals and disjunction, such FC readings are not predicted from the surface form of ◇∨-sentences. An influential approach treats FC readings as a kind of scalar enrichment generated by a covert exhaustification operator. This approach can also account for the ‘dual prohibition’ readings of : ¬◇∨-sentences like "Olivia can’t take Logic or Algebra" via general principles of implicature cancellation in downward entailing environments. Marty & Romoli (2020) and Romoli & Santorio (2019) examine the projection and filtering behavior of embedded ◇∨ and ¬◇∨-sentences, focusing on two kinds of cases which challenge this influential approach. First, ◇∨-sentences under negative factives: e.g., "Noah is unaware that Olivia can take Logic or Algebra", which in its most salient reading presupposes that Olivia has free choice and yet attributes to Noah ignorance not just concerning whether Olivia has free choice but also whether she can take even one of the classes. Second, ¬◇∨-sentences embedded under disjunction: e.g., "Either Maria can’t study in Tokyo or Boston, or she is the first in our family who can study in Japan and the second who can study in the States", which in its most salient reading filters out the FC presupposition of the second disjunct while the first disjunct gets the standard dual prohibition reading. These sentences present a serious challenge to extant accounts of FC. In this paper, we present a novel exhaustification-based account of FC that issues in a uniform solution to Marty, Romoli and Santorio’s puzzles concerning the presuppositional and filtering behavior of embedded ◇∨, ¬◇∨, and related FC sentences. Our account builds on the proposal—advanced in Bassi et al. (2019) and Del Pinal (2021) as a general theory of scalar implicatures—that covert exhaustification is a presupposition trigger such that the prejacent forms the assertive content while any excludable (or includable) alternatives are incorporated at the non-at issue, presuppositional level.