Default computation in language

(Blogging Xprag)

This morning begins with a series of talks on scalar implicature. This refers to the fact that “John ate some of the cookies” is usually interpreted as meaning “some but not all of the cookies.” Trying to get this post written during a 5-minute Q&A prevents me from proving that “some” does not simply mean “some but not all,” but in fact it is very clear that “some” means “some and possibly all.” The question, then, is why and how do people interpret such sentences as meaning something other than what they literally mean.

The most interesting moment for me so far has been a question by Julie Sedivy during the first Q & A. A popular theory of scalar implicature argues that the computation of “some = some-but-not-all” is a default computation. A number of experiments that have shown that such computation is slow has been taken by some as evidence against a default model. Sedivy pointed out that saying a computation is done by default doesn’t require that the computation be fast, so evidence about speed of computation can’t be taken as evidence for or against a default-computation theory.

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