Is the mechanism behind presupposition projection and filtering fundamentally asymmetric or symmetric? This is a foundational question for the theory of presupposition which has been at the centre of attention in recent literature (Schlenker in Theor Linguist 38(3):287–316, 2008b. https://doi.org/10.1515/THLI.2008.021, Semant Pragmat 2(3):1–78, 2009. https://doi.org/10.3765/sp.2.3; Rothschild in Semant Pragmat 4(3):1–43, 2011/2015. https://doi.org/10.3765/sp.4.3 a.o.). It also bears on broader issues concerning the source of asymmetries observed in natural language: are these simply rooted in superficial asymmetries of language use (language use happens in time, which we experience as fundamentally asymmetric); or are they, at least in part, directly encoded in linguistic knowledge and representations? In this paper we aim to make progress on these questions by exploring presupposition projection across conjunction, which has traditionally been taken as a central piece of evidence that presupposition filtering is asymmetric in general. As a number of authors have recently pointed out, however, the evidence which has typically been used to support this conclusion is muddied by independent issues concerning redundancy; additional concerns have to do with the possibility of local accommodation. We report on a series of experiments, building on previous work by Chemla and Schlenker (Nat Lang Semant 20(2):177–226, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11050-012-9080-7) and Schwarz (in: Schwarz (ed) Experimental perspectives on presuppositions, Springer, Cham, 2015), using inference and acceptability tasks, which aim to control for both of these potential confounds. In our results, we find strong evidence for left-to-right filtering across conjunctions, but no evidence for right-to-left filtering—even when right-to-left filtering would, if available, rescue an otherwise unacceptable sentence. These results suggest that presupposition filtering across conjunction is asymmetric, contra suggestions in the recent literature (Schlenker in Theor Linguist 34(3):157–212, 2008a. https://doi.org/10.1515/THLI.2008.013, 2009 a.o.), and pave the way for the investigation of further questions about the nature of this asymmetry and presupposition projection more generally. Our results also have broader implications for the study of presupposition: we find important differences in the verdicts of acceptability versus inference tasks in testing for projected content, which has both methodological ramifications for the question of how to distinguish presupposed content, and theoretical repercussions for understanding the nature of projection and presuppositions more generally.
Similar content being viewed by others
Chemla, E. (2008). Similarity: Towards a unified account of scalar implicatures, free choice permission and presupposition projection. Manuscript, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris and MIT. http://www.emmanuel.chemla.free.fr/Material/Chemla-SIandPres.pdf.
Chemla, E., & Schlenker, P. (2012). Incremental versus symmetric accounts of presupposition projection: An experimental approach. Natural Language Semantics, 20(2), 177–226. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11050-012-9080-7.
Chierchia, G. (2009). On the explanatory power of dynamic semantics. Handout from talk at Sinn und Bedeutung 14.
Chierchia, G., & McConnell-Ginet, S. (1990). Meaning and grammar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Chung, W. (2017). An evaluation-sensitive model for local context computation. (Unpublished manuscript NYU).
Djärv, K., & Bacovcin, H. A. (2017). Prosodic effects on factive presupposition projection. In D. Burgdorf, J. Collard, S. Maspong, & B. Stefánsdóttir (Eds.), Proceedings of SALT 27 (pp. 116–133). https://doi.org/10.3765/salt.v27i0.4134.
Fox, D. (2008). Two short notes on Schlenker’s theory of presupposition projection. Theoretical Linguistics, 34(3), 237–252.
Gazdar, G. (1979). Pragmatics: Implicature, presupposition and logical form. New York: Academic Press.
George, B. R. (2008). Presupposition repairs: A static, trivalent approach to predicting projection. University of California, Los Angeles MA thesis. http://www.semanticsarchive.net/Archive/2ZiYmEyN/brgeorge_ma.pdf.
Geurts, B., & Pouscoulous, N. (2009). Embedded implicatures?!? Semantics & Pragmatics, 2(4), 1–34.
Grice, P. (1989). Studies in the way of words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Heim, I. (1983). On the projection problem for presuppositions. In M. Barlow, D. P. Flickinger, & N. Wiegand (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2nd West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (pp. 114–125). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Reprinted in P. Portner, & B. H. Partee (Eds.), Formal semantics: The essential readings (pp. 223–248). New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470758335.ch10.
Hirsch, A., & Hackl, M. (2014). Incremental presupposition evaluation in disjunction. In J. Iyer, & L. Kusmer (Eds.), Proceedings of the 44th annual meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (Vol. 1, pp. 177–190). Amherst, MA: GLSA.
Hirsch, A., Zehr, J., & Schwarz, F. (2018). Presupposition projection from disjunction in online processing. In R. Truswell, C. Cummins, C. Heycock, B. Rabern, & H. Rohde (Eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 21 (Vol. 1, pp. 547–566). https://semanticsarchive.net/Archive/DRjNjViN/SuB21.pdf.
Ingason, A. K. (2016). Context updates are hierarchical. Glossa, 1(1), 1–9.
Karttunen, L. (1973). Presuppositions of compound sentences. Linguistic Inquiry, 4(2), 167–193.
Karttunen, L. (1974). Presupposition and linguistic context. Theoretical Linguistics, 1(1–3), 181–194. https://doi.org/10.1515/thli.1974.1.1-3.181.
Karttunen, L., & Peters, S. (1979). Conventional implicature. Syntax and Semantics, 11, 1–56.
Katzir, R., & Singh, R. (2013). Hurford disjunctions: Embedded exhaustification and structural economy. In U. Etxeberria, A. Fǎlǎuş, A. Irurtzun & B. Leferman (Eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 18 (pp. 201–216). https://semanticsarchive.net/sub2013/SeparateArticles/Katzir&Singh.pdf.
Mandelkern, M. (2016). A note on the architecture of presupposition. Semantics & Pragmatics, 9(13), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.3765/sp.9.13.
Mandelkern, M. (2019). Bounded modality. The Philosophical Review, 128(1), 1–61. https://doi.org/10.1215/00318108-7213001.
Mandelkern, M., & Romoli, J. (2017). Parsing and presupposition in the calculation of local contexts. Semantics & Pragmatics, 10(17). https://doi.org/10.3765/sp.10.7.
Mayr, C., & Romoli, J. (2016). A puzzle for theories of redundancy: Exhaustification, incrementality, and the notion of local context. Semantics & Pragmatics, 9(7), 1–48. https://doi.org/10.3765/sp.9.7.
Romoli, J. (2012). A solution (or two) to Soames’ problem: Presuppositions, conditionals and exhaustification. International Review of Pragmatics, 4(2), 153–184.
Romoli, J., & Mandelkern, M. (2018). Hierarchical structure and local contexts. In R. Truswell, C. Cummins, C. Heycock, B. Rabern & H. Rohde (Eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung21 (pp. 1017–1034). https://semanticsarchive.net/Archive/DRjNjViN/SuB21.pdf.
Rothschild, D. (2008). Presupposition projection and logical equivalence. Philosophical Perspectives, 22, 473–497.
Rothschild, D. (2011/2015). Explaining presupposition projection with dynamic semantics. Semantics & Pragmatics4(3), 1–43. https://doi.org/10.3765/sp.4.3.
Schlenker, P. (2008a). Be articulate: A pragmatic theory of presupposition projection. Theoretical Linguistics, 34(3), 157–212. https://doi.org/10.1515/THLI.2008.013.
Schlenker, P. (2008b). Presupposition projection: Explanatory strategies. Theoretical Linguistics, 38(3), 287–316. https://doi.org/10.1515/THLI.2008.021.
Schlenker, P. (2009). Local contexts. Semantics & Pragmatics, 2(3), 1–78. https://doi.org/10.3765/sp.2.3.
Schwarz, F. (2015). Symmetry and incrementality in conditionals. In F. Schwarz (Ed.), Experimental perspectives on presuppositions (pp. 195–213). Cham: Springer.
Soames, S. (1979). A projection problem for speaker presuppositions. Linguistic Inquiry, 10(4), 623–666.
Stalnaker, R. (1974). Pragmatic presuppositions. In M. K. Munitz & P. Unger (Eds.), Semantics and philosophy (pp. 197–213). New York: New York University Press.
Stalnaker, R. (1978). Assertion. In P. Cole (Ed.), Syntax and Semantics (Vol. 9, pp. 315–322). New York: Academic Press.
Tonhauser, J. (2016). Prosodic cues to presupposition projection. In M. Moroney, C.-R. Little, J. Collard, & D. Burgdorf (Eds.), Proceedings of SALT 26 (pp. 934–960). https://doi.org/10.3765/salt.v26i0.3788.
Tonhauser, J., Beaver, D. I., & Degen, J. (2018). How projective is projective content? Gradience in projectivity and at-issueness. Journal of Semantics, 35, 495–542.
von Fintel, K. (2008). What is presupposition accommodation, again? Philosophical Perspectives, 22(1), 137–170.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
We gratefully acknowledge audiences in Genoa, Utrecht, Göttingen, San Diego, Sydney, Milan, Frankfurt, Cornell, at the 30th CUNY, and at SALT 27; RA support from Nikhil Lakhani and Carissa Redfield; valuable discussion with an anonymous referee for this journal, Pranav Anand, Gennaro Chierchia, Alexandre Cremers, Daniel Rothschild, Philippe Schlenker, Robert Stalnaker, and Yoad Winter; and financial support from NSF-Grant BCS-1349009 to Florian Schwarz.
About this article
Cite this article
Mandelkern, M., Zehr, J., Romoli, J. et al. We’ve discovered that projection across conjunction is asymmetric (and it is!). Linguist and Philos 43, 473–514 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10988-019-09276-5