Symposium: The Role of Alternatives in Pragmatic Inference

Judith DegenStanford University
Noah GoodmanStanford University
Roni KatzirTel Aviv University
David BarnerUniversity of California, San Diego
Albert GattUniversity of Malta


When interpreting a speaker’s utterance, listeners routinely go beyond the information that is linguistically encoded and draw pragmatic inferences about what the speaker intended to convey. A core aspect of pragmatic inference is that it requires listeners to take into account alternative utterances that a speaker could have produced, but didn’t. For example, a listener who believes that the more informative "Alex ate all of the cookies" was an alternative a speaker could have used instead of her actual utterance "Alex ate some of the cookies" will likely expect there to be cookies left over. Similarly, if a speaker says of Alex that "he caused the car to stop", a listener will likely infer that he did so in a non-stereotypical way, since she could have instead uttered the simpler, more frequent, "he stopped the car".


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