The Vagueness of Sentences in Isolation

  • Carlota S. SmithEmail author
Part of the Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy book series (SLAP, volume 87)


Many fully grammatical sentences are vague, in that they give too little information for complete semantic interpretation. However, speakers appear to have no difficulty interpreting such sentences. When they appear in a context, information from neighboring sentences allows complete interpretation. When vague sentences are presented in isolation they are interpreted with great consistency, a striking fact since no completing information is available. This consistency is due, I shall argue, to a general strategy for maximizing available information rather than to the linguistic properties of the sentences in question.


Event Time Reference Time Subjective Contour Specific Reading Speech Time 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would like to thank Andy Rogers, Robert Wall, and especially Susan F. Schmerling for their helpful comments and suggestions. Responsibility for the analysis and errors is mine. [Note from the editors: We thank Barbara Partee for identifying two minor, but substantive, errors in the original CLS publication; these have been corrected, given that Carlota Smith’s intent was absolutely clear. We have also updated the references and corrected other typographical and formatting errors.]


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Formerly of Department of LinguisticsUniversity of TexasAustinUSA

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