Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 34, Issue 6, pp 491–535

Predicting the presuppositions of soft triggers


    • Lichtenberg KollegGeorg-August-Universität Göttingen

DOI: 10.1007/s10988-012-9108-y


The central idea behind this paper is that presuppositions of soft triggers arise from the way our attention structures the informational content of a sentence. Some aspects of the information conveyed are such that we pay attention to them by default, even in the absence of contextual information. On the other hand, contextual cues or conversational goals can divert attention to types of information that we would not pay attention to by default. Either way, whatever we do not pay attention to, be it by default, or in context, is what ends up presupposed by soft triggers. This paper attempts to predict what information in the sentence is likely to end up being the main point (i.e. what we pay attention to) and what information is independent from this, and therefore likely presupposed. It is proposed that this can be calculated by making reference to event times. The notion of aboutness used to calculate independence is based on that of Demolombe and Fariñas del Cerro (In: Holdobler S (ed) Intellectics and computational logic: papers in honor of Wolfgang Bibel, 2000).


Presuppositions Attention Soft triggers Aboutness Lexical semantics of verbs Factivity


Many thanks to the anonymous reviewers and to Chris Potts for helpful comments and suggestions on this paper. Thanks also to Denis Bonnay, Nathan Klinedinst, Daniel Rothschild and Philippe Schlenker for many conversations on various previous versions, Emmanuel Chemla, Paul Egré, Giorgio Magri, David Nicolas and Tim Williamson for comments on a previous draft and Edgar Onea, Benjamin Spector, Pascal Amsili, Paula Menéndez-Benito, David Beaver, Mandy Simons, Craige Roberts, Sigrid Beck, Robert Demolombe, Nicholas Asher, Paolo Santorio, Kyle Rawlins, Jacopo Romoli, François Recanati, Chris Barker, Danny Fox, Eytan Zweig, Ofra Magidor, Anna Szabolcsi, Bridget Copley, Matthew Towers and the audiences at LoLa10, The Aboutness Workshop in Toulouse, JSM10, University of York, University of Tübingen, University of Göttingen, SALT20, the Riga Symposium on Semantics, IJN and IRIT for very helpful comments and questions at various stages of this research. All remaining errors are my own. This research was supported by the ESF (Euryi grant to P. Schlenker), The Mellon Foundation and the Lichtenberg Kolleg, Georg-August Universität Göttingen.

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© The Author(s) 2012