The exclusive interpretation of plural nominals in quantificational environments

Pranav Anand, Caroline Andrews, Donka Farkas, Matthew Wagers


In some contexts, plural nominals have inclusive interpretation, allowing atoms in their reference domain; in others, they are exclusive, allowing only sums. Selecting between the two interpretations has been shown to be sensitive to both world-knowledge pressures (Farkas & de Swart 2010) and contextual relevance (Grimm 2010). The principal semantic factor claimed to be involved is monotonicity direction (Sauerland, Anderssen & Yatsushiro 2005; Spector 2007; Zweig 2009; Farkas & de Swart 2010): upward monotone environments tend to select exclusive readings; downward monotone ones, inclusive readings. In four image verification experiments, we tested this claim and found support for the generalization. The effect of monotonicity direction, however, is small. Moreover we find that varying whether a plural is in the scope of a quantified description has a much larger effect on the prevalence of the exclusive interpretation. This suggests that monotonicity, though involved, is not a decisive factor in plural interpretation.


plurality; number; pragmatics; experimental

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