Colloquium (11/15/2017): Florian Schwarz (University of Pennsylvania)

Florian Schwarz is interested in the formal semantics and pragmatics of natural language. Using a variety of experimental methodologies like eye-tracking studies and the visual world paradigm, he investigates how phenomena at the semantic-pragmatic interface such as presuppositions and implicatures are processed online. For more information, his website is here.

The Time-course of Presupposition Projection – Experimental Data and Theoretical Issues

A central question in the study of language is whether a given linguistic phenomenon can be explained in terms of domain-general aspects of cognition, or whether it requires reference to specific linguistic knowledge. Presuppositions, a sub-type of meaning consisting of backgrounded content that is typically taken for granted, offer an interesting case study in this regard: their characteristic ‘projection’ behavior (reflected in surviving embedding under various entailment-canceling operators) exhibits certain asymmetries, whose nature and source remains contested. One view is that they result from superficial aspects of language use unfolding in time; alternatively, they could be directly encoded at the level of linguistic representations. While recent proposals in the theoretical literature on projection directly allude to the role of the time-course associated with comprehending language `from left to right’, relatively little remains known about the real-time cognitive processes involved in comprehending presuppositions and deriving their projected interpretations. I present three experimental studies of projection out of conjunctions, disjunctions, and conditionals, using a variety of methods – from inference tasks to eye tracking during reading and in the visual world paradigm – to explore the role of left-to-right processing in projection. The overall upshot is that while presupposition projection effects arise relatively quickly online, in line with processing-based accounts of projection, they nonetheless incur additional processing costs, as reflected in small reading time delays. I discuss how the current empirical picture relates to the broader theoretical landscape.