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Is that a fact? Experiments on projective meaning

Dr. David Beaver

Tuesday, March 08, 2016, 01:00pm - 02:30pm

University of Texas at Austin, Department of Philosophy

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Consider the following three quotes in which the factive verb “know” is embedded under negation:

1) Watching biased Charles @krauthammer, a @FoxNews flunky who didn't know that I won every debate, in particular- the last one. (D. Trump, 1/28/2015)

2) I don't know that he's a nice guy. (D. Trump, 1/15/2016)

3) SpaceX doesn't even know for sure that NASA will pick its design. (Discovery News, 5/30/2014)

In (1) the factive complement of “know”, i.e. “I won every debate”, is presumably taken to be a fact by the tweeter. We say that the complement projects. In the literature on “know” and other presuppositional constructions, projection of factive complements is taken to be the norm. But in (2) and (3) the speaker appears not to be committed to the truth of the factive complements: there is certainly no projective inference. The standard generalization (from Karttunen 1971) is that first and second person present-tense uses of “know” are not factive: this might account for the lack of projection in (2), but fails to predict the interpretation of (3), where the subject of “know” is third-person.

More generally, embedding has a complex and variable effect on meaning, and understanding that behavior is crucial to figuring out what speakers mean and what they intend us to infer. I will report on an ongoing series of experimental studies on projective inferences like those in the above examples, using simple forced-choice judgment tasks, and involving a wide array of different constructions. These experiments allow us to study the semantic and pragmatic factors related to variability in projective inferences.

(Joint work with Judith Tonhauser, Edgar Onea, Judith Degen, Marie-Catherine de Marneffe, Craige Roberts, and Mandy Simons)

Dr. David Beaver