Negative Free Choice

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Paul Marty
Jacopo Romoli
Yasutada Sudo
Richard Breheny


Free Choice (FC) is an inference arising from the interaction between existential modals and disjunction. Schematically, a sentence of the form permitted(A or B) gives rise to the inference ◊A∧◊B. Many competing theories of FC have been proposed but they can be classified into two main groups: one group derives FC as an entailment, while the other derives it as an implicature. By contrast, Negative Free Choice (NFC), the corresponding inference from negated universal modals embedding conjunction, e.g., not(required(A and B)) to ¬□A∧□B, has been discussed much less, and its existence has even been questioned in the recent literature. This paper reports on three experiments whose results provide clear evidence that NFC exists as an inference, but also indicate that NFC is far less robust than FC. This leaves us with two theoretical possibilities: the uniform approach, which comes in two versions, one deriving both FC and NFC as implicatures, and the other deriving both as entailments, and the hybrid approach that derives FC as an entailment and NFC as an implicature. We argue that the observed difference between FC and NFC is straightforwardly explained under the hybrid approach while it poses a challenge for the uniform approach. We end with a brief discussion of the options we see for the uniform approach and their further consequences.

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