Not very easy: Towards the unification of scalar implicature and understatement


  • Stephanie Solt Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS)



Modified and unmodified gradable adjectives give rise to two distinct and opposing varieties of pragmatic enrichment: scalar implicature and understatement. While earlier work in pragmatics took these to be complementary inferences derived from opposing conversational principles, more recent work in the formal tradition has placed the focus firmly on scalar implicature and related phenomena, with no attempt to also account for understatement. In this paper I argue that there are good reasons to pursue a unified treatment of the two, and outline one possible way of doing so, framed within the commitment approach to assertion, where I take the commitments that come with asserting a proposition to encompass not only liability for its truth but also acceptance of the social consequences of expressing it. I further discuss how this approach can shed light on recent experimental findings regarding the role of lexical semantics in the pragmatic inferences available to gradable adjectives, as well as a puzzle that these findings pose.