Schlenker, Philippe. 2006. "Be Articulate: A Pragmatic Theory of Presupposition Projection". To appear in Theoretical Linguistics.   

[Full paper in pdf]  

Abstract: In the 1980s, the analysis of presupposition projection contributed to a ‘dynamic turn’ in semantics: the classical notion of meanings as truth conditions was replaced with a dynamic notion of meanings as Context Change Potentials (Heim 1983). We argue that this move was misguided, and we offer an alternative in which presupposition projection follows from the combination of a fully classical semantics and a new pragmatic principle, which we call Be Articulate. This principle requires that a meaning pp’ conceptualized as involving a pre-condition p (its ‘presupposition’) should be articulated as  … (p and pp’) …  (e.g. … it is raining and John knows it…) rather than as pp’ …, unless the full conjunction is ruled out because the first or the second conjunct is semantically idle. In particular,  ... (p and pp’)... is infelicitous - and hence pp’ … is acceptable -  if one can determine as soon as p and is uttered that no matter how the sentence ends these words could be eliminated without affecting its contextual meaning. An equivalence theorem guarantees that this condition suffices to derive Heim’s results in almost all cases. Extensions of the condition lead to several new predictions, in particular concerning some ‘symmetric readings’ (e.g. If the bathroom is not hidden, this house has no bathroom), as well as presupposition projection in quantified structures, which displays a complex interaction between the nature of the trigger and the monotonicity of the quantifier.