Logic and conversation The case of free choice

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Maria Aloni


Free choice inferences represent a much discussed case of a divergence between logic and language (Kamp 1973, Zimmermann 2000). Grice influentially argued that the assumption that such divergence does in fact exist is a mistake originating “from inadequate attention to the nature and importance of the conditions governing conversation” (Grice 1989: 24). I will first show that when applied to free choice phenomena, the standard implementation of Grice’s view, representing semantics and pragmatics as two separate components, is empirically inadequate. I will then propose a different account: a bilateral state-based modal logic modelling next to literal meanings also pragmatic factors and the additional inferences that arise from their interaction. The pragmatic factor I will consider connects to a tendency of language users to neglect empty configurations when engaging in linguistic interpretation. The non-emptiness atom (ne) from team semantics provides a perspicuous way to formally represent this tendency and to rigorously study its impact on interpretation. In terms of ne, I will define a pragmatic enrichment function and show that, in interaction with disjunction occurring in positive contexts and only in these cases, pragmatic enrichment yields non-trivial effects including predicting free choice inferences and their cancellation under negation. The latter result relies on the adopted bilateralism, where each connective comes with an assertion and a rejection condition and negation is defined in terms of the latter notion.

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