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Open Access Dissertation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Charles Clifton, Jr.
Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics | Semantics and Pragmatics
This dissertation looks at the question of how comprehenders get from an underspecified semantic representation to a particular construal. Its focus is on reciprocal sentences. Reciprocal sentences, like other plural sentences, are open to a range of interpretations. Work on the semantics of plural predication commonly assumes that this range of interpretations is due to cumulativity (Krifka 1992): if predicates are inherently cumulative (Kratzer 2001), the logical representations of plural sentences underspecify the interpretation (rather than being ambiguous between various interpretations). The dissertation argues that the processor makes use of a number of general preferences and principles in getting from such underspecified semantic representations to particular construals: principles of economy in mental representation, including a preference for uniformity, and principles of natural grouping. It sees no need for the processor to make use of a principle like the Strongest Meaning Hypothesis (Dalrymple et al. 1998) in comprehending reciprocal sentences. Instead, they are associated with cumulative semantic representations with truth conditions equivalent to Weak Reciprocity (Langendoen 1978), as in Dotlačil (2010). Interpretations weaker than Weak Reciprocity (‘chain interpretations’) arise via a process of pragmatic weakening. Interpretations stronger than Weak Reciprocity may arise in different ways. Statives are seen as having special requirements regarding the naturalness or ‘substantivity’ of pluralities (Kratzer 2001), and this leads to stronger readings. In other cases, strong interpretations are favoured by a preference for uniformity, which is taken to be a type of economy preference. It is assumed that the processor need not commit to a fully spelled out construal, but may build mental models of discourse that themselves underspecify the relations that hold among individuals. While the dissertation’s focus is on reciprocal sentences, the same principles and preferences are argued to be involved in comprehending other plural sentences.
Majewski, Helen, "Comprehending Each Other: Weak Reciprocity and Processing" (2014). Doctoral Dissertations. 223.