Free choice and the proper treatment of quantity implicatures

Bart Geurts (Nijmegen)


Time: 14.00, 1 April 2010

Place: Budapest VI. Bencz˙r u. 33., auditorium, ground-floor

Although as a rule one cannot validly derive either p or q from a premiss of the form "p or q", this move often seems to be valid when the disjunction is suitably embedded, as in: "Maybe p or q; therefore maybe p." I propose to explain such free choice inferences as conversational implicatures in the sense of Grice; in particular, I maintain that they are quantity implicatures. I'm not the first to suggest this course, but thus far it has proved difficult to carry out. The problem, I argue, is that the standard treatment of quantity implicatures gets off on the wrong foot, by asking why the speaker didn't make a stronger statement than he did. Once this is corrected, and we begin by asking instead what the speaker's intentional states might be like, free choice inferences are readily accounted for as a garden variety of quantity implicature.