Chemla, Emmanuel and Philippe Schlenker. (2009). “Incremental vs. Symmetric Accounts of Presupposition Projection: An Experimental Approach”. To appear in Natural Language Semantics.

[REVISED VERSION: January 2012 (pdf)]

[older version (with earlier data)]

Abstract: The presupposition triggered by an expression E is generally satisfied by information that comes before rather than after E in the sentence or discourse. In Heim's classic theory (1983), this left-right asymmetry is encoded in the lexical semantics of dynamic connectives and operators. But several recent analyses offer a more nuanced approach, in which presupposition satisfaction has two separate components: a general principle (which varies from theory to theory) specifies under what conditions a presupposition triggered by an expression E is satisfied; and an ‘incremental’ component specifies that the principle must be checked on the basis of information that comes before E. Several researchers take this incremental component to be a processing bias, which can be overcome at some cost. If so, it should be possible, though costly, to satisfy presuppositions ‘symmetrically’, i.e. taking into account linguistic material that comes both before and after the presupposition trigger. We test this claim with experimental means. Using inferential (and to some extent acceptability) tasks involving ‘anaphoric’ triggers, we show that in the propositional case symmetric readings are indeed possible (albeit degraded) in environments involving the connectives if, or and unless.

Keywords: presupposition projection; symmetry; incremental; processing; experiment.