Embedded scalars

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Bart Geurts
Bob van Tiel


For over a decade, the interpretation of scalar expressions under embedding has been a much debated issue, with proposed accounts ranging from strictly pragmatic, on one end of the spectrum, to lexico-syntactic, on the other. There has been some confusion as to what exactly the controversy is about, and we argue that what is at stake is the division of labour between pragmatic and truth-conditional mechanisms. All parties to the debate agree that upper-bounded construals of scalar expressions are variously caused by conversational implicatures and truth-conditional narrowing, but whereas Griceans argue that the former mechanism is the main cause, conventionalists point to the latter, assuming as a matter of course that the source of truth-conditional narrowing lies in linguistic convention; on this view, narrowing is either a lexical or a syntactic phenomenon. Since researchers’ introspective judgments tend to agree with the theories they advocate, a number of experimental studies have recently tried to shed light on this issue. In this paper, we review the experimental record, and argue that the extant data favour a pragmatic account.


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