Blindness, Short-Sightedness, and Hirschberg’s Contextually Ordered Alternatives: A Reply to Schlenker (2012)

  • Giorgio Magri
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Pragmatics, Language and Cognition book series (PSPLC)


Magri (MIT dissertation, 2009b; Nat Lang Semant 17(3):245–297, 2009a; Semant Pragmat 4:1–51, 2011) argues that scalar implicatures are blind to any contextual information. Schlenker (Nat Lang Semant 20(4):391–429, 2012, sections 3 and 4) objects that contextual Blindness is too strong an assumption because of the contextually ordered alternatives documented in Hirschberg (A theory of scalar implicature. Garland, New York, 1991). He thus submits that the computation of scalar implicatures is not blind but just contextually “short-sighted”: it can ignore certain pieces of common knowledge, but it is not required to ignore all of it. In this chapter, the author shows that Schlenker’s proposal is a technical mistake: Short-sightedness is provably equivalent to Blindness under natural assumptions on the set of scalar alternatives. Short-sightedness thus provides no new ammunition against Hirschberg’s challenge. The author then takes a closer look at the challenge, through some initial evidence, that contextually ordered alternatives are restricted and dependent on specific lexical choices. He conjectures that these choices share the property of introducing more logical structure than meets the eye, thus possibly providing the logical ordering required by Blindness (or the equivalent Short-sightedness). If this conjecture turns out to be correct, contextual ordering is never relevant to scalar implicatures, as indeed predicted by Blindness (or the equivalent Short-sightedness).


Scalar implicatures Oddness Contextually ordered alternatives Gricean reasoning Common knowledge 



I would like to thank Gennaro Chierchia, Danny Fox, Salvatore Pistoia-Reda, Paolo Santorio, and Philippe Schlenker for useful comments. The chapter has also benefitted from comments and discussion at the Exhaustivity Workshop held at MIT on September 10, 2016.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giorgio Magri
    • 1
  1. 1.SFL UMR 7023, (CNRS, University of Paris 8, UPL)ParisFrance

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