Research Seminars

Research seminars

Assertion & Presupposition: A Cross-Linguistic Experimental Investigation into the Syntax-Meaning Mapping

Kajsa Djarv (University of Pennsylvania)

Wednesday 10th october 2018

In this talk I present new data from a large-scale cross-linguistic experimental study, addressing two empirical questions regarding attitude predicates that take declarative clausal complements:

  1. (To what extent) are ASSERTION and PRESUPPOSITION syntactically encoded in the embedded clause?

  2. How does the lexical meaning of attitude verbs constrain: (i) the availability of different kinds of declarative complements; and (ii) the interpretation of the embedded clause, and the utterance as a whole?

These questions are at the heart of several theoretical debates, going back to Kiparksy & Kiparsky 1970, Emonds 1970, Hooper & Thompson 1973, and Stalnaker 1974, 1978. Much of the work in this area has centered around a family of constructions, so-called Main Clause Phenomena (MCP), which although typically confined to unembedded clauses, are also observed to be available in some embedded declaratives. The consensus view in the literature is that the availability of MCP correlates positively with ASSERTION, and negatively with PRESUPPOSITION.

However, despite its long history, providing a precise characterization---and hence a predictive theory---of this syntax-meaning relationship, has proven challenging. I attribute this to two gaps in our knowledge:

  1. First, it is not clear to what extent these constructions actually represent a (syntactically or semantically) homogeneous class.

  2. Secondly, assertion and presupposition are both multifaceted concepts; what specific aspects are relevant to the syntax?

    This talk presents new data from an on-going large-scale experimental study investigating the semantic-pragmatic conditions governing the availability of 4 different MCP, across 3 different languages, thus addressing these knowledge gaps, and paving the way for a predictive theoretical account.