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.

Full Text:



Atlas, Jay D. & Stephen C. Levinson. 1981. It-clefts, informativeness and logical form: Radical pragmatics (revised standard version). In P. Cole (ed.), Radical Pragmatics, 1–62. New York: Academic Press.

Bates, D., M. Maechler, B. Bolker & S. Walker. 2015. lme4: Linear mixed-effects models using Eigen and S4. R package version 1.1-8.

Beaver, David L. & Brady Z. Clark. 2008. Sense and Sensitivity: How Focus Determines Meaning. Wiley-Blackwell.

Büring, Daniel. 2006. Focus Projection and Default Prominence. In Valéria Molnár & Susanne Winkler (eds.), The Architecture of Focus, Berlin/New York: Mouton De Gruyter.

Büring, Daniel & Manuel Križ. 2013. It’s that, and that’s it! Exhaustivity and homogeneity presupposition in clefts (and definites). Semantics and Pragmatics 6(6). 1–29.

Byram-Washburn, Mary, Elsie Kaiser & Maria Luisa Zubizarreta. 2013. The English It-Cleft: No Need to Get Exhausted. University of Southern California.

Cummins, Chris, Patricia Amaral & Napoleon Katsos. 2013. Backgrounding and accommodation of presuppositions: an experimental approach. In Emmanuel

Chemla, Vincent Homer & Grégoire Winterstein (eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 17, 201–218. Paris.

Delin, Judy. 1992. Properties of It-Cleft Presupposition. Journal of Semantics 9. 289–306.

Delin, Judy & Jon Oberlander. 1995. Syntactic constraints on discourse structure: the case of it-clefts. Linguistics 33. 456–500.

Destruel, Emilie. 2012. The french c’est-cleft: An empirical study on its meaning and use. In Empirical Issues in Syntax and Semantics 9: Selected Papers from CSSP, 95–112.

Destruel, Emilie, Daniel Velleman, Edgar Onea, Dylan Bumford, Jingyang Xue & David Beaver. 2014. A cross-linguistic study of the non-at-issueness of exhaustive inferences. In Florian Schwarz (ed.), Experimental Perspectives on Presuppositions Experimental Perspectives on Presuppositions, Springer. Preprint version cited.

Destruel, Emilie & Leah Velleman. 2014. Refining Contrast: Empirical Evidence from the English it-Cleft. In Christopher Piñón (ed.), Empirical Issues in Syntax and Semantics 10, 197–214.

den Dikken, Marcel. 2013. Predication and specification in the syntax of cleft sentences. In Katharina Hartmann & Tonjes Veenstra (eds.), Cleft Structures, Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Drenhaus, Heiner, Malte Zimmermann & Shravan Vasishth. 2011. Exhaustiveness effects in clefts are not truth-functional. Journal of Neurolinguistics 24. 320–337.

Frege, Gottlob. 1892. Über Sinn und Bedeutung. Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik C. English Translation: On Sense and Meaning. In Brian McGuinness (ed.), Frege: Collected works, 25–50.

Hedberg, Nancy. 2000. The referential status of clefts. Language 76. 891–920.

Hedberg, Nancy A. 1990. Discourse pragmatics and cleft sentences in English: University of Minnesota dissertation. Unpublished.

Heim, Irene & Angelika Kratzer. 1998. Semantics in Generative Grammar. Blackwell.

Horn, Laurence. 1981. Exhaustiveness and the semantics of clefts. In Proceedings of NELS, vol. 11, 125–142.

Horn, Laurence. 2014. Information Structure and the Landscape of (non-)at-issue Meaning. In Caroline Féry & Shinichiro Ishihara (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Information Structure, Oxford University Press. Online Publication Date: Dec 2014. Preprint version cited.

Krifka, Manfred. 2008. Basic notions of information structure. Acta Linguistica Hungarica 243–276.

Kuppevelt, Jan. 1996. Inferring from topics. Linguistics and Philosophy 19(4). 393–443.

Mayol, Laia & Elena Castroviejo. 2013. How to cancel an implicature. Journal of Pragmatics 50. 84–104.

Onea, Edgar & David Beaver. 2009. Hungarian focus is not exhausted. Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 19 342–359.

Percus, Orin. 1997. Prying open the cleft. In Proceedings of NELS, 337–351.

Prince, Ellen F. 1978. A Comparison of WH-clefts and it-Clefts in Discourse. Language 54. 883–906.

R Core Team. 2015. R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing Vienna, Austria.

Saur, Eva-Maria. 2013. Clefts: Discourse Function and the Nature of Exhaustivity Violation Effects. Universität Potsdam MSc Thesis. Unpublished.

Simons, Mandy, David Beaver, Judith Tonhauser & Craige Roberts. 2010. What Projects And Why. In Nan Li & D. Lutz (eds.), Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 20, 309–327.

Skopeteas, Stavros & Gisbert Fanselow. 2011. Focus and the Exclusion of Alternatives: On the Interaction of Syntactic Structure with Pragmatic Inference. Lingua 11. 1693–1706.

Strawson, Peter F. 1950. On referring. Mind 59(235). 320–344.

Tonhauser, Judith, David Beaver, Judith Degen, Marie-Catherine de Marneffe, Craige Roberts & Mandy Simons. 2015. On the heterogeneity of projective content. Presentation at workshop “Experimental and crosslinguistic evidence for the distinction between implicatures and presuppositions”. ZAS, Berlin.

Tonhauser, Judith, David Beaver, Craige Roberts & Mandy Simons. 2013. Towards a taxonomy of projective content. Language 89(1). 66–109. Preprint version cited.

Velleman, Dan Bridges, David Beaver, Emilie Destruel, Dylan Bumford, Edgar Onea & Liz Coppock. 2012. It-clefts are IT (inquiry terminating) constructions. Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 22 441–460.