Sven Lauer on Pragmatics & Implicatures at CUNY Linguistics May 21

Sven Lauer on Pragmatics & Implicatures at CUNY Linguistics May 21

CUNY Linguistics Colloquium
Spring 2015

Sven Lauer (University of Konstanz)

Thursday, May 21, 2015
Time: 4:15pm
Room: C205

Model-theoretic pragmatics and obligatory implicatures

The model-theoretic approach to semantics has enabled the development of articulated, formally explicit theories of natural language meaning. At the same time, pragmatic explanations are still frequently given informally, or in terms of rather rough schematic inference schemes. I show that a model-theoretic approach to pragmatics is feasible, and that it significantly improves our understanding of pragmatic inference.

To that end, I present a model-theoretic pragmatic theory, the Dynamic Pragmatics of Lauer (2013), and show that it makes rather unexpected predictions: There are pragmatic inferences, which, though Gricean in nature, arise necessarily whenever an expression is used, and when such an inference is known to be false, this makes the expression infelicitous. This goes against conventional wisdom in pragmatics, according to which Gricean inferences are, by necessity, optional and cancelable.

I argue that the prediction is nonetheless correct, reviewing a range of cases where an arguably non-semantic inference is non-optional and robust enough to trigger infelicities. The model-theoretic analysis shows that these inferences are not just pragmatic in a vague sense, but neatly fit into the Gricean fold: They arise in exactly the same way as classical examples of implicatures. The only difference between the better-studied optional implicatures (such as the familiar scalar ones) and obligatory implicatures is that the former are driven by pragmatic pressures that are context-dependent in a particular way, while the latter are driven by pressures that apply equally in all contexts.

All are welcome. Please come!

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