The meaning of plural definites: A decision-theoretic approach

Sophia A. Malamud


This paper has two mutually motivating goals. The empirical goal is to demonstrate that definite plurals are expressions whose interpretation requires an approach that incorporates the goals of the speaker and hearer. The theoretical goal is to contribute to the development of a mathematical model of the pragmatic reasoning involved in the interpretation of underspecified utterances. I propose a decision-theoretic approach in which alternative interpretations of underspecified expressions are built up compositionally, and the resulting interpretation is the disjunction of maximally optimal alternatives. For definite plurals, this derives the correct interpretations in a variety of linguistic and situational contexts based on pragmatic and lexical cues.

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homogeneity presupposition, strongest meaning hypothesis, distributivity, maximality, decision theory, relevance, definite plurals

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ISSN: 1937-8912

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