Contradicting (not-)at-issueness in exclusives and clefts: An empirical study

Joseph P. DeVeaugh-Geiss, Malte Zimmermann, Edgar Onea, Anna-Christina Boell


We present two empirical studies on exclusives, it-clefts, and pseudoclefts (i.e., identity statements with a definite description) in which the at-issue and not-at-issue content — a factor that has not been properly controlled for in prior experimental work on cleft exhaustivity — was teased apart systematically. The results show that violations of exhaustivity in it-clefts, a not-at-issue inference, patterned differently from the necessary presupposition failures of the not-at-issue semantic inferences. These findings pose a new experimental challenge to semantic accounts of exhaustivity in it-clefts, while being in line with pragmatic accounts.

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