, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 227-256
Date: 26 Apr 2011

Interface transparency and the psychosemantics of most

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Abstract

This paper proposes an Interface Transparency Thesis concerning how linguistic meanings are related to the cognitive systems that are used to evaluate sentences for truth/falsity: a declarative sentence S is semantically associated with a canonical procedure for determining whether S is true; while this procedure need not be used as a verification strategy, competent speakers are biased towards strategies that directly reflect canonical specifications of truth conditions. Evidence in favor of this hypothesis comes from a psycholinguistic experiment examining adult judgments concerning ‘Most of the dots are blue’. This sentence is true if and only if the number of blue dots exceeds the number of nonblue dots. But this leaves unsettled, e.g., how the second cardinality is specified for purposes of understanding and/or verification: via the nonblue things, given a restriction to the dots, as in ‘|{x: Dot(x) & ~Blue(x)}|’; via the blue things, given the same restriction, and subtraction from the number of dots, as in ‘|{x: Dot(x)}| – |{x: Dot(x) & Blue(x)}|’; or in some other way. Psycholinguistic evidence and psychophysical modeling support the second hypothesis.

Guidelines for testing human research subjects were followed as certified by the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Institutional Review Boards. Subjects’ rights were protected throughout.