An experimental investigation of implicature and homogeneity approaches to free choice
Lyn Tieu, Cory Bill, Jacopo Romoli
May 2023

A sentence containing disjunction in the scope of a possibility modal, such as 'Angie is allowed to buy the boat or the car', gives rise to the free choice inference that Angie can freely choose between the two. This inference poses a well-known puzzle, in that it is not predicted by a standard treatment of modals and disjunction (e.g., Kamp 1974). To complicate things further, free choice tends to disappear under negation: 'Angie is not allowed to buy the boat or the car' doesn’t merely convey the negation of free choice, but rather the stronger double prohibition reading that Angie cannot buy either one. There are two main approaches to the free choice-double prohibition pattern in the literature. While they both capture the relevant data points, they make a testable, divergent prediction regarding the status of positive and negative sentences in a context in which Angie can only buy one of the two objects, e.g., the boat. In particular, the implicature-based approach (e.g., Fox 2007, Klinedinst 2007, Bar-Lev & Fox 2017, 2020) predicts that the positive sentence is true in such a context, but associated with a false implicature, while it predicts the negative sentence to be straightforwardly false. The homogeneity-based approach in Goldstein (2019) predicts both the positive and negative sentences to be equally undefined (see also Aloni 2022 and Willer 2017 for similar predictions). Investigating the contrast between these sentences in such a context therefore provides a clear way to address the debate between implicature and non-implicature accounts of free choice. We present a set of three experiments aiming to do just this, by comparing free choice inferences to regular implicatures, using a ternary judgment task. The results overall present a challenge for the implicature approach. We discuss how the implicature approach could be amended to account for our results, based on a recent proposal by Enguehard & Chemla (2021) on the distribution of implicatures.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/007279
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Under review
keywords: free choice, implicature, homogeneity, ternary judgment task, polarity, semantics
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