Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 245–297 | Cite as

A theory of individual-level predicates based on blind mandatory scalar implicatures

  • Giorgio MagriEmail author


Predicates such as tall or to know Latin, which intuitively denote permanent properties, are called individual-level predicates. Many peculiar properties of this class of predicates have been noted in the literature. One such property is that we cannot say #John is sometimes tall. Here is a way to account for this property: this sentence sounds odd because it triggers the scalar implicature that the alternative John is always tall is false, which cannot be, given that, if John is sometimes tall, then he always is. This intuition faces two challenges. First: this scalar implicature has a weird nature, since it must be surprisingly robust (otherwise, it could be cancelled and the sentence rescued) and furthermore blind to the common knowledge that tallness is a permanent property (since this piece of common knowledge makes the two alternatives equivalent). Second: it is not clear how this intuition could be extended to other, more complicated properties of individual-level predicates. The goal of this paper is to defend the idea of an implicature-based theory of individual-level predicates by facing these two challenges. In the first part of the paper, I try to make sense of the weird nature of these special mismatching implicatures within the recent grammatical framework for scalar implicatures of Chierchia (Structures and beyond, 2004) and Fox (2007). In the second part of the paper, I show how this implicature-based line of reasoning can be extended to more complicated properties of individual-level predicates, such as restrictions on the interpretation of their bare plural subjects, noted in Carlson (Reference to kinds in English. Doctoral dissertation, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1977), Milsark (Linguistic Analysis 3.1: 1–29, 1977), and Fox (Natural Language Semantics 3: 283–341, 1995); restrictions on German word order, noted in Diesing (Indefinites, 1992); and restrictions on Q-adverbs, noted in Kratzer (The Generic Book, ed. Carlson and Pelletier, 125–175, 1995).


Individual level predicates Bare plurals Scalar implicatures 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bennett Michael., Barbara Partee. (1972) Toward the logic of tense and aspect in English. Distributed in 1978 by the Indiana University Linguistics Club, BloomingtonGoogle Scholar
  2. Berman, Steve. 1990. Toward the semantics of open sentences: Wh-phrases and indefinites. In Proceedings of the seventh Amsterdam colloquium, ed. Martin Stokhof and Leen Torenvliet, 53–78. University of Amsterdam: ITLI.Google Scholar
  3. Burton, S., and G. Jane. 1992. Coordination and VP-internal subjects. Linguistic Inquiry 23: 305–313.Google Scholar
  4. Carlson, Gregory N. 1977. Reference to kinds in English. Doctoral diss., University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Published in 1980 by Garland Press, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Chemla Emmanuel. (2006) A problem for the theory of anti-presuppositions. Manuscript, ENS ParisGoogle Scholar
  6. Chierchia, Gennaro. 1995. Individual-level predicates as inherent generics. In The generic book, ed. G. N. Carlson and F. J. Pelletier, 125–175. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  7. Chierchia Gennaro. (1998) Reference to kinds across languages. Natural Language Semantics 6: 339–405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chierchia, Gennaro. 2004. Scalar implicatures, polarity phenomena and the syntax/pragmatics interface. In Structures and beyond, ed. A. Belletti. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Chierchia Gennaro. (2006a) Broaden your views: Implicatures of domain widening and the ‘logicality’ of language. Linguistic Inquiry 37.4: 535–590CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chierchia, Gennaro. 2006b. Obligatory Implicatures. Talk delivered at Sinn und Bedeutung 11, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.Google Scholar
  11. Chierchia, Gennaro, Danny Fox, and Benjamin Spector. to appear. The grammatical view of scalar implicatures and the relationship between semantics and pragmatics. In Handbook of Semantics, ed. Paul Portner, Claudia Maienborn, and Klaus von Heusinger. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  12. Cohen Ariel., Nomi Erteschik-Shir. (2002) Topic, focus and the interpretation of bare plurals. Natural Language Semantics 10: 125–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Condoravdi, Cleo. 1992. Individual-level predicates in conditional clauses. Talk given at the LSA Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, PA.Google Scholar
  14. Diesing Molly. (1992) Indefinites. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  15. Dowty, David R. (1979) Word meaning and Montague grammar. Kluwer Academic Publisher, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  16. Ferreira Marcelo. (2005) Event quantification and plurality. Doctoral diss., MITGoogle Scholar
  17. Fodor Janet Dean. (1970) The linguistic description of opaque contexts. Doctoral diss., MITGoogle Scholar
  18. Fox Danny. (1995) Economy and scope. Natural Language Semantics 3: 283–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fox Danny. (2000) Economy and semantic interpretation. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  20. Fox, Danny. 2007. Free choice and the theory of scalar implicatures. In Presupposition and implicature in compositional semantics, ed. U. Sauerland and P. Stateva, 71–120. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  21. Fox Danny., Martin Hackl. (2006) The universal density of measurement. Linguistics and Philosophy 29.5: 537–586Google Scholar
  22. Fox Danny., Jon Nissenbaum., Uli Sauerland. (2001) Association with focus. Manuscript, MITGoogle Scholar
  23. Gajewski Jon. (2003) On analyticity in natural language. Manuscript, MITGoogle Scholar
  24. Gajewski Jon. (2005) Neg-raising: Polarity and presupposition. Doctoral diss., MITGoogle Scholar
  25. Gazdar Gerald. (1979) Pragmatics: Implicature, presupposition and logical form. Academic Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  26. Geurts Bart. (2009) Scalar implicature and local pragmatics. Mind and Language 24: 51–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Glasbey, Sheila. 1997. I-level predicates that allow existential readings for Bare Plurals. In Proceedings of SALT7, ed. Aaron Lawson. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.Google Scholar
  28. Grice, Paul. 1975. Logic and conversation. In Syntax and semantics 3: Speech acts, ed. P. Cole and J. Morgan, 41–58. New York: Academic: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  29. Gruber, J. 1965. Studies in lexical relations. Doctoral diss., MIT. Published in 1965 by the Indiana University Linguistics Club, Bloomington.Google Scholar
  30. Hawkins John A. (1991) On (in)definite articles: Implicatures and (un)grammaticality prediction. Journal of Linguistics 27: 405–442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Heim, Irene. 1988. The semantics of definite and indefinite noun phrases. Doctoral diss., University of Massachusetts, Amherst.Google Scholar
  32. Heim, Irene. 1991. Artikel und Definitheit. In Semantik: Ein internationales Handbuch der zeitgenössischen Forschung, ed. A. von Stechow and D. Wunderlich, 487–535. De Gruyter: Berlin.Google Scholar
  33. Higginbotham, J., and G. Ramchand. 1997. The stage-level/individual-level distinction and the mapping hypothesis. In Oxford University working papers in linguistics, philosophy and phonetics, vol. 2, ed. David Willis, 55–83.Google Scholar
  34. Horn, L. 1972. On the semantic properties of logical operators in English. Doctoral diss., UCLA. Distributed by IULC.Google Scholar
  35. Horn, Laurence R. 2005. The border wars: A neo-Gricean perspective. In Where semantics meets pragmatics, ed. K. Turner and K. von Heusinger. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  36. Jäger Gerhard. (2001) Topic-comment structure and the contrast between stage level and individual level predicates. Journal of Semantics 18: 83–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kamp, J. A. W. 1981. A theory of truth and semantic representation. In Formal methods in the study of language, ed. J. Groenendijk, T. Janssen, and M. Stokhof, 277–321. Amsterdam: Mathematical Centre.Google Scholar
  38. Kiss, K. E. 1998. On generic and existential bare plurals and the classification of predicates. In Events and Grammar, ed. S. Rothstein, 145–162. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publisher.Google Scholar
  39. Kratzer, Angelika. 1995. Stage-level and individual-level predicates. In The generic book, ed. G. N. Carlson and F. J. Pelletier, 125–175. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  40. (1995) The semantics and pragmatics of polarity items. Linguistic Analysis 25: 209–257Google Scholar
  41. Landman, Fr (eds) (2000) Events and plurality. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, Boston, LondonGoogle Scholar
  42. Löbner Sebastian. (1985) Definites. Journal of Semantics 4: 279–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Magri, Giorgio. 2008. A theory of individual level predicates based on blind mandatory scalar implicatures (extended version). MIT manuscript; available at .
  44. Maienborn Claudia. (2001) On the position and interpretation of locative modifiers. Natural Language Semantics 9: 191–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. McNally, L. 1998. Stativity and telicity. In Events and grammar, ed. S. Rothstein, 293–307. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publisher.Google Scholar
  46. Milsark Gary L. (1977) Toward an explanation of certain peculiarities of the existential. Linguistic Analysis 3.1: 1–29Google Scholar
  47. Musan Renate. (1995) On the temporal interpretation of noun phrases. Doctoral diss., MITGoogle Scholar
  48. Musan Renate. (1997) Tense, predicates, and lifetime effects. Natural Language Semantics 5: 271–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Percus, Orin. 2001. Pragmatic constraints on (Adverbial) (Temporal) quantification. In Papers in linguistics 22: Papers on predicative constructions, ed. G. Jaeger, A. Strigin, C. Wilder, and N. Zhang. Berlin: ZAS.Google Scholar
  50. Percus, Orin. 2006. Antipresuppositions. In Theoretical and empirical studies of reference and anaphora: Toward the establishment of generative grammar as an empirical science, ed. A. Ueyama. Report of the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B), Project no. 15320052, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, 52–73.Google Scholar
  51. Russell Benjamin. (2006) Against grammatical computation of scalar implicatures. Journal of Semantics 23: 361–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sauerland, Uli. 2003. Implicated presuppositions. In Proceedings of the conference Polarity, scalar phenomena, implicatures. University of Milano Bicocca, 18–20, June 2003.Google Scholar
  53. Sauerland Uli. (2004) Scalar implicatures in complex sentences. Linguistics and Philosophy 27: 367–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schlenker, Philippe. 2006. Maximize presupposition and Gricean reasoning. Manuscript, UCLA and Institute Jean-Nicod.Google Scholar
  55. Schubert, Lenhart K., and Francis Jeffry Pelletier. 1989. Generically speaking, or using discourse representation theory to interpret generics. In Properties, types and meaning, ed. Gennaro Chierchia, Barbara Partee, and Raymond Turner, 193–268. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publisher.Google Scholar
  56. Schwarzschild Roger. (1996) Pluralities. Kluwer Academic Publisher, Dordrecht, Boston, LondonGoogle Scholar
  57. Singh, Raj. 2009. Maximize presupposition! and informationally encapsulated implicatures. In Proceedings of SuB13, ed. A. Riester and T. Solstad. Stuttgart.Google Scholar
  58. Spector Benjamin. (2006) Aspects de la Pragmatique des Operateurs Logiques. Université Paris 7, Doctoral dissGoogle Scholar
  59. Spector Benjamin. (2006) Aspects of the pragmatics of plural morphology: On higher-order implicatures. Ecole Normale Supérieure, ManuscriptGoogle Scholar
  60. Spector, Benjamin. 2007. Scalar implicatures: Exhaustivity and Gricean reasoning. In Questions in dynamic semantics, ed. Maria Aloni, Alastair Butler, and Paul Dekker, 229–254. Elsevier.Google Scholar
  61. von Fintel Kai. (1993) Exceptive constructions. Natural Language Semantics 1.2: 123–148Google Scholar
  62. von Fintel Kai. (1997) Bare plurals, bare conditionals, and ‘only’. Journal of Semantics 14: 1–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. van Rooij Robert., Katrin Schulz. (2004) Pragmatic meaning and non-monotonic reasoning: The case of exhaustive interpretation. Linguistics and Philosophy 29.5: 205–250Google Scholar
  64. van Valin R.D. (1986) An empty category as the subject of a tensed S in English. Linguistic Inquiry 17: 581–586Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and PhilosophyMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations