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Colloquium with Maria Aloni of the University of Amsterdam

Title: Neglect-zero effects at the semantics-pragmatics interface  


In Free Choice (FC) and Epistemic Possibility (EP) inferences, conjunctive meanings are derived from disjunctive sentences contrary to the prescriptions of classical logic [Kam73, Zim00]:  

FC: You may go to the beach or to the cinema  => You may go to the beach and you may go to the cinema 

EP: It is raining or snowing  => It might be raining and it might be snowing

[Alo22] presented a formal account of FC and EP inferences in a Bilateral State-based Modal Logic (BSML). The novel hypothesis at the core of this proposal is that these inferences are neither conversational implicatures nor semantic entailments but rather a straightforward consequence of a tendency in human cognition to neglect models that verify sentences by virtue of an empty witness set (neglect-zero). 

There are two different ways to implement neglect-zero in BSML: (i) syntactically, using the [ ]+-enrichment function from [Alo22]; and (ii) model-theoretically, ruling out the empty set from the set of possible states (BSML*). These two implementations both derive FC and EP inferences and their cancellation under negation, but differ for example in their predictions with respect to the debated case of Negative FC (only derivable in BSML*) [MRSB21]:

NegFC: It is not required that Mia buys both apples and bananas =>  It is not required that Mia buys apples and that Mia buys bananas.

In the talk, after illustrating and motivating the neglect-zero hypothesis, I will compare its predictions with those of alternative accounts in the neo-Gricean, grammatical and lexicalist tradition [Sau04, BLF20, Gol19].


[Alo22] Maria Aloni. Logic and conversation: the case of free choice. Semantics & Pragmatics, 15(5), 2022.

[BLF20] Moshe E. Bar-Lev and Danny Fox. Free choice, simplification, and innocent inclusion. Natural Language Semantics, 28:175–223, 2020.

[BSK19] Oliver Bott, Fabian Schlotterbeck, and Udo Klein. Empty-set effects in quantifier interpretation. Journal of Semantics, 36:99–163, 2019.

[Gol19] Simon Goldstein. Free choice and homogeneity. Semantics and Pragmatics, 12(23):1–47, 2019.

[Kam73] Hans Kamp. Free choice permission. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 74:57–74, 1973.

[MRSB21] Paul Marty, Jacopo Romoli, Yasutada Sudo, and Richard Breheny. Negative free choice. Semantics & Pragmatics, 14(13), 2021.

[Sau04] Uli Sauerland Scalar Implicatures in Complex Sentences. Linguistics and Philosophy, 27:367–391, 2004.

[Zim00] Ede Zimmermann. Free choice disjunction and epistemic possibility. Natural Language Semantics, 8:255–290, 2000.