, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 245-260

On the interpretation of disjunction: asymmetric, incremental, and eager for inconsistency

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Abstract

Hurford’s Constraint (Hurford, Foundations of Language, 11, 409–411, 1974) states that a disjunction is infelicitous if its disjuncts stand in an entailment relation: #John was born in Paris or in France. Gazdar (Pragmatics, Academic Press, NY, 1979) observed that scalar implicatures can obviate the constraint. For instance, sentences of the form (A or B) or (Both Aand B) are felicitous due to the exclusivity implicature of the first disjunct: A or B implicates ‘not (A and B)’. Chierchia, Fox, and Spector (Handbook of semantics, 2008) use the obviation of Hurford’s Constraint in these cases to argue for a theory of local implicature. I present evidence indicating that the constraint needs to be modified in two ways. First, implicatures can obviate Hurford’s Constraint only in earlier disjuncts, not later ones: #(Both A and B) or (A or B). Second, the constraint rules out not only disjuncts that stand in an entailment relation, but also disjuncts that are even mutually consistent: #John is from Russia or Asia. I propose to make sense of these facts by providing an incremental evaluation procedure which checks that each new disjunct to the right is inconsistent with the information to its left, before the disjunct can be strengthened by local implicature.