Institut Jean Nicod

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Soutenance de thèse - Émile Enguehard - "Structural and contextual factors in pragmatics"


Date : Lundi 4 octobre à 13h15

Lieu : Salle Djébar et en ligne (contacter Émile Enguehard pour pouvoir y assister)


Jury :

  • Maria Aloni (rapportrice, Université d’Amsterdam)
  • Maribel Romero (rapportrice, Université de Constance)
  • Emmanuel Chemla (ENS/EHESS/CNRS)
  • Uli Sauerland (Leibniz-ZAS)
  • Yasutada Sudo (University College London)
  • Benjamin Spector (directeur de thèse, ENS/EHESS/CNRS)


Résumé :

The overarching theme of this thesis is the role of alternatives in natural language semantics and pragmatics, and particularly the question of the precise division of labour between semantics and pragmatics when it comes to alternative-sensitive phenomena.

Prominent among these phenomena is that of scalar implicatures and exhaustification, which the first two chapters focus on.

Chapter 2 (after the introduction) discusses the potential for triggering scalar implicatures of comparative modified numerals, expressions such as “more than three”. I find that contrary to earlier claims, scalar implicatures are observed in sentences where these expressions occur, and that whether they are possible or not depends on certain world-knowledge factors as well as the roundness of the number. I propose an account based on obligatory exhaustification with lexical scales, where the choice of scale is based on a pragmatically-determined Question Under Discussion.

Chapter 3 addresses a well-known problem for theories of exhaustification that locate it in the semantics : these theories allow for embedded exhaustification, but need to constrain its distribution to fit observations. The main claim developed in the chapter is that we can derive that distribution from a whole-meaning connectedness constraint. This constraint is inspired by work on the naturalness of concepts and can plausibly be related to a very general cognitive bias.

In Chapter 4, I discuss a family of modal examples called Minimal Sufficiency constructions whose observed meaning is at odds with what received views of the meaning of their component parts predict. I contrast a variety of accounts of these examples inspired from the literature, all based on pragmatic scales as well as some form of alternative-sensitivity, though locating it in different components of the sentence, and show that none of them are fully adequate.

Chapter 5 is a case study in the use of probabilistic models of pragmatics, which have been proposed as an alternative to exhaustification, for the derivation of formal results of interests to linguistics. The problem of interest is Horn’s proposed universal concerning the lexicalization of the logical operators forming the so-called Square of Aristotle, where a certain lexicon (A, E, I) is widely attested while another, equally expressive one (A, E, O) is not. It is shown that the optimality of the attested lexicon can be derived from a natural generalization on the meaning of content words within a decision-theoretic model of language use, without recourse to lexical or cognitive markedness as explanatory factors.

Finally, the last two chapters are concerned with question semantics. I show that certain patterns of presupposition projection in coordinated polar questions present a challenge to the alternative semantics (a.k.a. Hamblin-Karttunen) view of questions, as well as various other existing theories, in that established theories of presupposition projection fail to derive the data. I submit that we need semantics for questions that go beyond alternatives and feature greater parallelism between polar questions and declaratives, and I propose two such accounts, one based on inquisitive semantics and trivalent logic in Chapter 6, and one based on dynamic semantics in Chapter 7.