Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 167–203 | Cite as

Biscuit Conditionals: Quantification Over Potential Literal Acts

  • Muffy E. A. SiegelEmail author


In biscuit conditionals (BCs) such as If you’re hungry, there’s pizza in the fridge, the if clause appears to apply to the illocutionary act performed in uttering the main clause, rather than to its propositional content. Accordingly, previous analyses of BCs have focused on illocutionary acts, and, this, I argue, leads them to yield incorrect paraphrases. I propose, instead, that BCs involve existential quantification over potential literal acts such as assertions, questions, commands, and exclamations, the semantic objects associated with declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamative sentences, respectively. Such an existential interpretation of BCs requires only that we add potential literal acts to our inventory of individuals, and it produces reasonable paraphrases in which if has its normal meaning: If you’re hungry,[there’s a (relevant/salient) assertion that] there’s pizza in the fridge. These potential literal act variables are introduced into semantic interpretations and then undergo Existential Closure. Hence, we would expect to see similar interpretations in contexts other than BCs, that is, with other if constructions, with connectives other than if, with potential literal acts other than assertion, and in root sentences. This prediction is borne out, along with the parallel prediction that we cannot quantify over purely illocutionary acts like offers, but only over potential literal acts, those conventionally associated with a particular morphosyntactic shape.


Main Clause Illocutionary Force Existential Closure Semantic Object Clause Type 


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© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English 022-29Temple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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