Take home exam Foundations of meaning
Horn (2004) introduced the Q-principle and the
R-principle which cover the maxim of manner, quantity and relevance introduced
by Grice (1975). The Q-principle states that one should say as much as they can
and the R-principle states that one should say no more than they must. These
two principles rely on each other and only work if the other one is given.
The sentence Robin met a woman underlies an Q-based implicature: the woman is
not his wife. If the speaker could be more precise and more specific they
other hand, the sentence Robin broke a
leg has a implicature underlying the R-principle: Robin broke his own leg.
If the speaker would need to be more specific they would.
The problem that arises here is that the two
indefinite articles give two different implicatures which are divergent. One is
based on the Q-principle and the other on the R-principle. In other words on
word, the indefinite article, can provoke different implicatures. This problem
comes from the markedness of the indefinite article. The two indefinite articles
differ in their markdness. While a woman
is not marked, a leg is marked since
the speaker implicates that the leg belongs to Robin.
Scalar implicatures are implicatures which
implicate that the utterance cannot be more specific or less:
Sarah ate some of the cake:
Implicature: She did not eat all of the cake.
The scale is therefore:
If the speaker could be more informative they
would say all and therefore tries to be as informative as possible, which Horn
defines as the Q-principle. If Sarah would have eaten all the cake the speaker
would have uttered it. Such scales have orderings where the stronger meaning
entails the weaker meaning: If Sarah ate all of the cake she also ate most of
the cake. If Sarah at most of the cake, she also ate some of the cake.
This is also the case with cardinal numbers:
Sarah ate 10 pieces of cake.
Implicature: Sarah did not eat 11 pieces of cake.
The cardinals are also ordered where the higher
number is stronger and therefore entails the lower number: If Sarah ate 10
pieces of cake she also ate 9 pieces of cake. To follow the Q-principle the
speaker would be as precise as possible and would utter the highest/strongest
possible number, in this case 10, and would implicate she did not eat more
pieces of cake. If we would interpret the sentence this way it would mean that
10 has a two-sided meaning. 10 is interpreted as exactly 10. If we would interpret
the sentence with 10 having a one-sided meaning the implicature would be that
Sarah ate at least 10 pieces of cake which nevertheless entails the weaker
Presuppositions are taking for granted by the
speaker, i.e. they are a background assumption that the hearer and the speaker
share. Presuppositions are meaning components that don’t influence the truth or
falsehood of a sentence but its felicity, i.e. whether it is appropriate to
utter the sentence in a context. Since a presupposition is treated as already
given, independent of the utterance, it cannot be cancelled:
Ali feeds Sarah’s dog.
Presupposition: Sarah has a dog
#Ali feeds Sarah’s dog but Sarah does not have
But there are some exceptions when a presupposition
can indeed be cancelled. This is the case when the presupposition is embedded:
It was not the dog who ate the food because
there is no dog.
If Sarah’s dog ate the food, I am the king of
China: there is no dog.
On the other hand, implicatures can be cancelled.
Implicatures can change with different expectations of the hearer. Therefore,
the same sentence in a different utterance context may not give the same
Sarah ate some of the cake:
Implicature: Sarah didn’t eat all the cake
But the implicature is cancelled in the
Sarah ate some of the cake – she even ate all
An entailement is always true whenever the
sentence is true hence you cannot cancel them:
Sarah ate some of the cake
Entailment: Sarah ate cake.
If you now cancel the entailment the sentence
is not felicitous anymore:
# Sarah ate some of the cake but Sarah did not
As said before presuppositions is background
information which does not influence the truth value of the sentence. Since a
presupposition is treated as already given it survives when the sentence gets
negated because it is not influenced by the sentence:
Ali knows that Sarah has a dog.
Presupposition: Sarah has a dog.
Ali does not know that Sarah has a dog
The presupposition survives: Sarah has a dog.
How can this phenomenon be explained? During a
conversation the speaker and the hearer share some knowledge this knowledge is
called common ground. The common ground can be seen as a set of worlds in which
all of this knowledge is true, the context set. This is the context of any new
utterance in the same discourse. And it is dynamic. Whenever a new fact is
uttered it is added to the common ground and the context set shrinks: any new
utterance divides the context set in two to parts: those worlds in which the
utterance is true, and those in which it is false and then excludes the latter
from the context set. If a new sentence gets uttered it is accepted as true if
all its presuppositions are true in the context set since the presuppositions
are already part of the context set. If the same sentence gets uttered but
negated the presuppositions stays the same since they are already part of the