What makes an inference robust?
Paul Marty, Jacopo Romoli, Yasutada Sudo, Richard Breheny
February 2023

Sentences involving disjunction give rise to ignorance, distributive and free choice inferences. These inferences display certain similarities with reg- ular Scalar Implicatures (SIs) and some researchers have proposed to treat them as such. This proposal, however, faces an important challenge: experimental results have shown that all three inferences are generally more robust, faster to process, and easier to acquire than regular SIs. A common response to this challenge in the literature is to hypothesise that such discrepancies among different types of SIs stem from the type of alternatives used to derive them: in contrast to regular SIs, ignorance, distributive and free choice inferences are computed on the basis of sub-constituent alternatives, which are alternatives that are formed with- out lexical substitution. This paper reports on a series of experiments that tested this hypothesis by comparing positive, disjunctive sentences giving rise to the three inference types of inferences to variants of these sentences involving either negation and conjunction, or negation and disjunction, for which the implicature approach predicts similar inferences on the basis of the same type of alternatives. Our results reveal that, while the three inferences are indeed quite robust in the disjunctive cases, regardless of whether negation is present or not, the inferences that their negative, conjunctive variants give rise to are not. These findings are challenging for the idea that the type of alternatives involved in SI computation (i.e., sub-constituent vs. lexical) is a major factor responsible for differences in robustness. We outline two possible alternative explanations of our data. One supplements the implicature approach with an extra assumption about how relevance is calculated for disjunction; the other is based on a non-implicature approach to the cases involving disjunction.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006205
(please use that when you cite this article)
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keywords: free choice, distributive inferences, ignorance inferences, implicatures, semantics
previous versions: v1 [September 2021]
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