Principles of presupposition in development
Athulya Aravind, Danny Fox, Martin Hackl
December 2020

This paper brings a developmental perspective on a longstanding issue in linguistics and the philosophy of language surrounding the proper characterization of presuppositions. On an influential view (Stalnaker 1970, 1974; Karttunen 1974), presuppositions reflect formal admittance conditions: an utterance of a sentence which presupposes p is admitted by a conversational context c only if p is already common ground in c. The theory distinguishes two modes of satisfying this formal requirement: (i) presuppositions may have common ground status prior to utterance, or (ii) they may achieve common ground status post-hoc, via accommodation, an adjustment of the common ground by cooperative listeners so as to meet the requirements of the uttered sentence. While intuitive and general, this two-pronged approach has been criticized on empirical methodological grounds and motivated alternative theories that reject the notion that presuppositions impose admittance conditions. We present a novel set of evidence from child language in favor of the admittance view of presuppositions. In a series of behavioral experiments, we show that young children generate a default expectation that the presuppositions of an asserted sentence have common ground status prior to utterance, even in situations where accommodation is licensed. More tellingly, even when accommodation is the preferred option for adults, children adopt a different conversational stance. The observed two-step developmental trajectory, we argue, lends support to key tenets of the admittance theory, whose empirical validity may otherwise be masked due to the pragmatic sophistication of adult language users.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/005774
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: submitted
keywords: presupposition, acquisition, accommodation, pragmatics, common ground, semantics
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