Philosophical Studies

, Volume 151, Issue 1, pp 115–142 | Cite as

Local contexts and local meanings

  • Philippe SchlenkerEmail author


Stalnaker (1978) made two seminal claims about presuppositions. The most influential one was that presupposition projection is computed by a pragmatic mechanism based on a notion of ‘local context’. Due to conceptual and technical difficulties, however, the latter notion was reinterpreted in purely semantic terms within ‘dynamic semantics’ (Heim 1983). The second claim was that some instances of presupposition generation should also be explained in pragmatic terms. But despite various attempts, the definition of a precise ‘triggering algorithm’ has remained somewhat elusive. We discuss possible extensions of both claims. First, we offer a reconstruction of ‘local contexts’ which circumvents some of the difficulties faced by Stalnaker’s original analysis. We preserve the idea that local contexts are computed by a pragmatic mechanism that aggregates the information that follows from an incomplete sentence given the global context; but we crucially rely on a modified notion of entailment (‘R-entailment’), whose plausibility should be assessed on independent grounds. Second, we speculate that local contexts might prove necessary (though by no means sufficient) to understand how some presuppositions are triggered. In a nutshell, we suggest that a presupposition is triggered when the semantic contribution of an expression to its local context is in some sense ‘heterogeneous’. Without giving an analysis of the latter notion, we note that this architecture implies that presuppositions should be triggered on the basis of the meaning that an expression has relative to its local context (what we call its ‘local meaning’); we sketch some possible consequences of this analysis.


Presupposition Projection problem Triggering problem Stalnaker Assertion 


  1. Abrusan, M. (2010). Triggering verbal presuppositions. Oxford University (manuscript).Google Scholar
  2. Abusch, D. (2009). Presupposition triggering from alternatives. Journal of Semantics. doi: 10.1093/jos/ffp009.
  3. Barker, C. (2008). Notes on presupposition and order of composition. Ms., NYU. Available on Semantics Archive at:
  4. Beaver, D. (2008). As brief as possible (but no briefer). Theoretical Linguistics, 34(3), 213–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blackburn, P. (1994). Tense, temporal reference and tense logic. Journal of Semantics, 11, 83–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chemla, E. (2008). Presuppositions of quantified sentences: Experimental data. Natural Language Semantics, 17(4), 299–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chemla, E., & Schlenker, P. (2009). Incremental vs. symmetric accounts of presupposition projection: An experimental approach. Institut Jean-Nicod, LSCP & NYU (manuscript).Google Scholar
  8. Grice, P. (1981). Presupposition and conversational implicature. In P. Cole (Ed.), Radical pragmatics (pp. 183–198). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  9. Heim, I. (1983). On the projection problem for presuppositions. In D. Flickinger, et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the second west coast conference on formal linguistics (pp. 114–125). Reprinted in Davis 1991.Google Scholar
  10. Karttunen, L. (1974). Presupposition and linguistic context. Theoretical Linguistics, 1, 181–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lewis, D. (1979). Attitudes de dicto and de se. Philosophical Review, 88(4), 513–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Rothschild, D. (2008). Presupposition projection in dynamic semantics. Manuscript, Columbia University.Google Scholar
  13. Schlenker, P. (2007). Anti-dynamics: presupposition projection without dynamic semantics. Journal of Logic, Language and Information, 16(3), 325–356. doi: 10.1007/s10849-006-9034-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Schlenker, P. (2008a). Be Articulate: A pragmatic theory of presupposition projection. Theoretical Linguistics, 34(3), 157–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Schlenker, P. (2008b). Presupposition projection: Explanatory strategies. Theoretical Linguistics, 34(3), 287–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Schlenker, P. (2009a). Presupposition projection: the new debate. In Proceedings of SALT 2008. Google Scholar
  17. Schlenker, P. (2009b). Local contexts. Semantics & Pragmatics, 2, Article 3, 1–78. doi: 10.3765/sp.2.3.
  18. Schlenker, P. (to appear). Presuppositions and local contexts. Mind. doi: 10.1093/mind/fzq032.
  19. Simons, M. (2003). Presupposition and accommodation: Understanding the Stalnakerian picture. Philosophical Studies, 112, 251–278. doi: 10.1023/A:1023004203043.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Soames, S. (1989). Presupposition. In D. Gabbay & F. Guenthner (Eds.), Handbook of philosophical logic IV (pp. 553–616). Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  21. Stalnaker, R. (1974). Pragmatic presuppositions. In M. Munitz & P. Unger (Eds.), Semantics and philosophy. New York: New York University Press. Reprinted in Davis 1991.Google Scholar
  22. Stalnaker, R. (1978). Assertion. In P. Cole (Ed.), Syntax and semantics, Vol. 9: Pragmatics (pp. 315–322).Google Scholar
  23. Stalnaker, R. (2002). Common ground. Linguistics and Philosophy, 25, 701–721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut Jean-NicodParisFrance
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations