Nicole Gotzner (ZAS) on Wednesday, 10 December 2014

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Nicole Gotzner (ZAS) will give a talk entitled Exhaustivity and models of implicature computation on Wednesday, 10 December, 2014 at 15:00 at Trans 8 A.W. de Grootkamer 0.19. See abstract below:

A sentence like ROB came to the meeting may give rise to the inference that no other person came to the meeting. Whether or not such an exhaustivity inference arises depends on the information structure and intonational realization of the sentence (e.g., Rooth, 1992; Pierehumbert & Hirschberg, 1990). In this talk, I will address the question how psycholinguistic experiments may adjudicate between different theoretical proposals concerning the mechanisms underlying the derivation of exhaustivity inferences.

The psycholinguistic literature in this area has to a large extent focused on scalar implicatures triggered by the quantifier some. One much discussed phenomenon is that the computation of implicatures incurs a processing cost, however, it is currently unclear what this processing cost is due to (see for example Chemla & Singh, 2014 for an overview). Moreover, the relationship between focus, exhaustivity and implicatures has been neglected in many previous studies (though see for example Zondervan, 2010 and Tomlinson & Bott, 2013).

I will present a series of studies comparing exhaustivity inferences triggered by the focus particle only and contrastive pitch accents. The results indicate that contrastive prosody is as effective in conveying an exhaustive inference like the focus particle only. This inference is derived quickest when the referent noun is preceded by only (e.g., Only Rob came to the meeting), intermediate when the referent is realized with a contrastive pitch accent (L+H*) and slowest with neutral realization (H*). These data can be explained under the following assumptions: (i) exhaustivity inferences come about via a silent only operator (e.g., van Rooij & Schulz, 2004); (ii) the application this operator incurs a processing cost, possibly because listeners need to decide among alternative readings of the sentence (see also Marty & Chemla, 2013) and (iii) contrastive prosody facilitates this decision process.


Pierrehumbert, J. & Hirschberg, J. (1990). The meaning of intonational contours in the interpretation of discourse. In P. Cohen, J. Morgan & M. Pollack, eds., Intentions in Communication, 271-311, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Marty, P. P., & Chemla, E. (2013). Scalar implicatures: working memory and a comparison with only. Frontiers in psychology, 4.

Tomlinson, J. & Bott, L. (2013). How intonation contrains pragmatic inference. In Markus Knauff, Michael Pauen, Natalie Sebanz & Ipke Wachsmuth (eds.), Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, 3569 – 3575.

van Rooij, R. & Schulz, K. (2004). Exhaustive interpretation of complex sentences. Journal of Logic, Language, and Information, 13, 491-519.

Zondervan, A. (2010). Scalar implicatures or focus: An experimental approach. LOT Dissertation Series 249, Utrecht.

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