Pragmatic reasoning through semantic inference

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Leon Bergen
Roger Levy
Noah Goodman


A number of recent proposals have used techniques from game theory and Bayesian cognitive science to formalize Gricean pragmatic reasoning (Frank & Goodman, 2012; Franke, 2009; Goodman & Stuhlmuller, 2013; Jager, 2012). We discuss two phenomena which pose a challenge to these accounts of pragmatics: M-implicatures (Horn, 1984) and embedded implicatures which violate Hurford’s constraint (Chierchia, Fox, & Spector, 2012; Hurford, 1974). While techniques have been developed for deriving M-implicatures, Hurford-violating em- bedded implicatures pose a more fundamental challenge, because of basic limitations in the models’ architecture. In order to explain these phenomena, we propose a realignment of the division between semantic content and pragmatic content. Under this proposal, the semantic content of an utterance is not fixed independent of pragmatic inference; rather, pragmatic inference partially determines an utterance’s semantic content. We show how semantic inference can be realized as an extension to the Rational Speech Acts framework (Goodman & Stuhlmuller, 2013). The addition of lexical uncertainty derives both M-implicatures and the relevant embedded implicatures, and preserves the derivations of more standard implicatures. We use this principle to explain a novel class of implicature, non-convex disjunctive implicatures, which have several theoretically interesting properties. In particular, these implicatures can be preserved in downward-entailing contexts in the absence of accenting, a property which is predicted by lexical uncertainty, but which violates prior generalizations in the literature (Fox & Spector, in press; Horn, 1989).


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