Next Friday, we are having the last talk of the McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series of this semester! The talk will be given by Dr. Paul H. Portner (Georgetown University) on Friday, March 15th at 3:30PM at Sherbrooke 680, room 1041 (10th floor). The details of the talk are given below:

Title: Social relations and scalar implicature

Abstract:  Psychologists and philosophers have noted the relevance of social factors to scalar implicature. For example, Bonnefon et al. (2009) argue that (1) is less likely to be understood with an upper-bounding implicature (i.e. ‘not everyone thought you drank too much’) than a more neutral case such as (2) (based on their examples p. 249-50):

(1)    A: What impression did I make during dinner?
B: Some guests thought you drank too much.
(Potential implicature: Not all guests thought you drank too much.)

(2)   Some students stayed on the campus this weekend.
(Implicature: Not all students stayed on the campus this weekend.)

They explain the difference with the idea that using ‘some’ can be understood as a politeness strategy, and that when used for politeness, it does not generate an implicature. Other relevant work in psychology includes Bonnefon and Villejoubert (2006), Mazzarella et al. (2018), and Yoon et al. (2020). Within philosophy, Swanson (2017) focuses on the possibility for the speaker [B] to convey an upper-extending (understatement) implicature like ‘many guests thought you drank too much’, and he shares with the other authors the idea that social factors are crucial to explaining the particular pragmatic profile of such cases.

      In this talk, I will discuss how to formalize the role of social relations in semantics and pragmatics and use it to provide a precise neo-Gricean explanation of why the upper-bounding implicature fails to arise in cases like (1). The analysis shows the necessity of integrating social relations into the formal apparatus of semantic theory, and it also leads to a better understanding of the off-record nature of certain implicatures (a point mentioned by Swanson). I may also touch on some consequences for the grammatical approach to scalar implicature.