Several open questions exist about how the division of labour between Semantics (the conventional aspect of meaning associated with words and other expressions) and Pragmatics (kinds of meaning that arise due to principles of conversation and general reasoning) is to be understood. Two empirical domains are of particular interest here.
First, dynamic effects (DEs): when a linguistic expression affects the interpretation of another one following it, we say that a DE
obtains. E.g. in (1) the interpretation of the pronoun “it” is affected by (resolved to) the indefinite “a Ferrari”, as it is dependent on it.
(1) Bill owns a Ferrari. It is parked outside.
Second, alternative-based inferences (ABIs): if a sentence’s inference arises by negating (an aspect of the meaning of) an alternative sentence, it is alternative-based. E.g. the scalar implicature of (2) that Helen did not eat both a steak and a salad arises by negating the alternative to (2) with “and” instead of “or”.
(2) Helen ate a steak or a salad.
The two domains have given rise to two similar debates. (i) While there is consensus that both DEs and ABIs involve a combination of semantics and pragmatics, it is controversial what role each one plays. (ii) It is debated whether the characterisation of (1) and (2) and related phenomena as involving DEs or ABIs is correct to begin with. This gives rise to the broader issue whether a dynamic perspective and in addition an alternative-based perspective should be adopted at all.
To address debate (i), this project adopts the working hypothesis that indeed one should adopt both perspectives. Based on this it investigates a hitherto largely neglected empirical domain, namely the non-trivial interaction of DEs and ABIs; non- trivial insofar as taking a particular dynamic perspective has immediate consequences for which alternative-based perspective one needs to take and vice versa. As such the theoretical consequences of the combined investigation of DEs and ABIs are profound. Apart from contributing to the individual theoretical debates about DEs and ABIs, it will offer novel and important insights into the nature of the semantics-pragmatics interface. Moreover, the success of such an approach contributes to debate (ii), as it will bolster a view that adopts both the dynamic and the alternative-based perspective.
To substantiate the theoretical perspective sketched, the project adopts a broad variety of experimental measures for data collection promising new insights into the debates. Moreover, it extends the empirical coverage of the theory beyond simple spoken language by taking a cross-modal view. It does so by investigating the influence of gesture on DEs and ABIs and their visualisation in sign languages.
The novelty and originality of this project thus lie in its empirical focus, both novel and broad at once, the ensuing theoretical implications and the variety of experimental methods used for investigation.