A probabilistic pragmatics for English singular some

Lewis Esposito, Christopher Potts


When English some combines with a singular NP, the resulting phrases reliably convey affective meanings not shared by variants with a(n) or plural NPs. Prior research has traced these effects to semantic properties of some that entail that the speaker cannot identify a unique referent for the phrase. In this paper, we present attested examples that conflict with this generalization. In addition, we argue that semantic accounts miss an important generalization: some is reliably affective only if a is available as an alternative. These facts suggest a pragmatic source for the relevant meanings. To capture them, we argue that a given context can make different modes of identification for entities relevant and that singular some signals a lack of engagement with these modes. We analyze the pragmatics of this signaling using the "lexical uncertainty" version of the Rational Speech Acts model and show how it can be used to characterize the observed affective meanings.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/salt.v30i0.4800

Copyright (c) 2021 Lewis Esposito, Christopher Potts