Asymmetry in presupposition projection: The case of conjunction

Matthew Mandelkern, Jérémy Zehr, Jacopo Romoli, Florian Schwarz


Is the basic mechanism behind presupposition projection fundamentally asymmetric
or symmetric? This is a basic question for the theory of presupposition, and also
bears on broader issues concerning the source of asymmetries observed in natural
language: are these simply rooted in superficial asymmetries of language use—
language use unfolds in time, which we experience as fundamentally asymmetric—
or can they be, at least in part, directly referenced in linguistic knowledge and
representations? In this paper we aim to make progress on these questions by
exploring presupposition projection across conjunction, which has typically been
taken as a central piece of evidence that presupposition projection is asymmetric.
As a number of authors have recently pointed out, however, whether or not this
conclusion is warranted is not clear once we take into account independent issues of
redundancy. Building on previous work by Chemla & Schlenker (2012) and Schwarz
(2015), we approach this question experimentally by using an inference task which
controls for redundancy and presupposition suspension. We find strong evidence for
left-to-right filtering across conjunctions, but no evidence for right-to-left filtering,
suggesting that, at least as a default, presupposition projection across conjunction is
indeed asymmetric.

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