Alternatives in counterfactuals: what is right and what is not
Jacopo Romoli, Paolo Santorio, Eva Wittenberg
May 2021

Classical semantics for counterfactuals is based on a notion of com- parative similarity and minimal change: If A, would C says that the most similar A-worlds are C-worlds. This semantics suffers from a well-known difficulty with disjunctive antecedents, which has generated a number of proposals combining the semantics of counterfactuals with alternatives (see e.g. Alonso-Ovalle 2009, Willer 2018, Santorio 2018, a.o.). In a recent study, Ciardelli, Zhang, and Cham- pollion (2018b; henceforth, CZC) present new, related difficulties for the classical approach having to do with unpredicted differences between counterfactuals with De Morgan-equivalent antecedents, and related pattern of inferences. They pro- pose a new semantics for counterfactuals, which builds on inquisitive semantics (see Ciardelli et al. 2018a) and gives up on comparative similarity and minimal change. We report a series of experiments extending their investigation. Our results replicate CZC’s main effects, but they also indicate that those effects are linked to the presence of overt negation. We propose a novel account, based on three key assumptions: (i) the semantics for counterfactuals is standard; (ii) the meanings of disjunction and negation are associated with alternatives, which interact with the meaning of counterfactuals; (iii) the alternatives generated by negation are partially determined by the question under discussion (QUD). We compare our account with other existing accounts, including CZC’s own proposal, as well as Schulz’s (2019) and Bar-Lev & Fox’s (2020) ones.
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Reference: lingbuzz/005921
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Published in: under review
keywords: alternatives, counterfactuals, implicatures, inquisitive semantics, semantics
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