Processing Scalar Inferences in Face-Threatening Contexts


Depending on politeness considerations, the quantifier `some' can receive a broad interpretation (some and possibly all) or a narrow interpretation (some but not all). Face-threatening statements such as `some people hated your speech' encourage the broad interpretation that everyone hated the speech. Because previous research showed that broad interpretations are normally faster and easier, politeness should be easy to process, since it would encourage what is normally the easier interpretation of the statement. Using response time measures and a cognitive load manipulation, this research shows that just the opposite is true: Face threatening contexts encourage the broad interpretation of `some' while making it longer and more difficult to reach. This result raises difficulties for current cognitive theories of pragmatic inferences.

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