Presupposition and Implicature

Introduction to Formal Pragmatics

Emar Maier


RuG Wijsbegeerte
Oude Boteringestraat 52

Course level

Introduction to state-of-the-art

Course description

Pragmatics is an immense subfield within linguistics, defined as studying aspects of meaning that arise when language is used by its speakers to communicate with each other. In this course we focus on the interface between pragmatics and formal semantics, sometimes called 'formal pragmatics'. More in particular, I'll discuss the three currently most active areas of formal pragmatics research:
(i) presupposition, the oldest of the three, with a steady amount of theoretical attention devoted to it from Frege until today, but one where nonetheless things are still far from settled, as witness a recent refueling of the debate by an (alleged?) newcomer (Schlenker) and some experimental data;
(ii) scalar implicature, somewhat dormant for a while, but now the source of an ongoing debate between “neo-Griceans” and “grammaticalists”, fought primarily over psycholinguistic evidence;
(iii) conventional implicature, almost entirely dormant for some decades, until Potts (2005) proposes a formal semantic approach to such phenomena as expressive content and parenthetical clauses.

After giving a overview of the state of the art in all three fields of interest, I conclude with a recent proposal to unify all these pragmatic phenomena as showing projection triggered by a general distinction between backgrounded and at-issue content.

Day-to-day program


Introduction: semantics and pragmatics; Grice's conversational maxims; presupposition projection


Presupposition: semantic and pragmatic presupposition; dynamic semantics and satisfaction (Heim); Discourse Representation Theory and presupposition-as-anaphora (Van der Sandt); back to static bivalence (Schlenker), experimental data


Scalar implicature: scales, embedding, conventionalists (Chierchia) vs. globalists (Geurts), experimental data


Conventional implicature: dimensions of meaning, as-parentheticals, expressives, honorifics, epithets (Potts)


Projective meanings: Simons et al. (2011)

Reading materials

Background and preparatory readings

Will be announced at course website, to be constructed under

Course readings

Lecture 1:

  • Gamut, L. T. F. 1991. Logic, Language and Meaning I, Ch.6: Pragmatics: Meaning and Usage.
  • Grice, Herbert Paul. 1975. Logic and conversation. In Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts, ed. Peter Cole and Jerry Morgan, 41-58. New York: Academic Press.
  • Geurts, Bart. 2010. Quantity Implicatures: Ch. 1-3. Cambridge University Press. Q-implicatures.pdf.
  • Lecture 2:

  • Geurts, Bart. 1999. Presuppositions and Pronouns, Ch. 1. Elsevier. Elsevier.
  • Beaver, David, and Bart Geurts. 2011. Presupposition. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta.
  • Schlenker, Philippe. 2010. “Presuppositions and Local Contexts.” Mind 119 (474): 377-391. doi:10.1093/mind/fzq032.
  • Lecture 3:

  • Chierchia, Gennaro, Danny Fox, and Benjamin Spector. 2011. The grammatical view of scalar implicatures and the relationship between semantics and pragmatics. In Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning, ed. Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger, and Paul Portner, 197-212. Mouton de Gruyter, January.
  • Geurts, Bart. 2009. “Scalar implicature and local pragmatics.” Mind & Language 24 (1): 51-79.
  • Lecture 4:

  • Potts, Christopher. 2004. Conventional implicatures, a distinguished class of meanings. In The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Interfaces, ed. Gillian Ramchand and Charles Reiss, 187–198. Oxford University Press.
  • Lecture 5:

  • Simons, Mandy, Judith Tonhauser, David Beaver, and Craige Roberts. 2011. What projects and why. In Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 20, ed. Nan Li and David Lutz, 3:309-327. eLanguage.
  • Further readings