Schlenker, Philippe. 2010. "The Proviso Problem: a Note"



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Abstract:    Several theories of presupposition projection incorrectly predict that some sentences which yield unconditional presuppositions should have weaker, conditional ones. For instance, If John is unwise, he will continue to smoke is predicted to have the presupposition that if John is unwise, he smoked, whereas one certainly infers that John did in fact smoke. We summarize some difficulties faced by two prominent solutions, DRT and Singh’s ‘Formal Alternatives’; we then offer a new analysis which is compatible with several semantic theories of projection, and which (unlike Singh’s theory) does not require the addition of a new representational module. In essence, we obtain unconditional inferences by assuming that speakers may ignore certain parts of  a sentence when they accommodate a presupposition – presumably to simplify their computational work. They do so by adding to the context an assumption that would satisfy the presupposition of the sentence no matter which meaning some of its elements have. Depending on which elements are ignored in this way, a variety of strengthened presuppositions are obtained. We briefly sketch a mechanism (which follows some of Singh’s earlier ideas) to determine which of these strengthened inferences are in fact obtained. The analysis correctly predicts some new instances of the Proviso Problem in quantificational examples.