Donkeys under discussion

Lucas Champollion, Dylan Bumford, Robert Henderson

Abstract


Donkey sentences have existential and universal readings, but they are not often perceived as ambiguous. We extend the pragmatic theory of non-maximality in plural definites by Križ (2016) to explain how hearers use Questions under Discussion to fix the interpretation of donkey sentences in context. We propose that the denotations of such sentences involve truth-value gaps — in certain scenarios the sentences are neither true nor false — and demonstrate that Križ’s pragmatic theory fills these gaps to generate the standard judgments of the literature. Building on Muskens’s (1996) Compositional Discourse Representation Theory and on ideas from supervaluation semantics, we define a general schema for dynamic quantification that delivers the required truth-value gaps. Given the independently motivated pragmatic theory of Križ 2016, we argue that mixed readings of donkey sentences require neither plural information states, contra Brasoveanu 2008, 2010, nor error states, contra Champollion 2016, nor singular donkey pronouns with plural referents, contra Krifka 1996, Yoon 1996. We also show that the pragmatic account improves over alternatives like Kanazawa 1994 that attribute the readings of donkey sentences to the monotonicity properties of the embedding quantifier.

EARLY ACCESS

Keywords


donkey sentences; dynamic semantics; homogeneity; non-maximality; Question under Discussion; semantics/pragmatics interface; trivalence; truth-value gaps; weak/strong (existential/universal) ambiguity

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3765/sp.12.1

License URL: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

ISSN: 1937-8912

Journal doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3765/sp