Factivity: semantics or pragmatics

Date: 
Tuesday, April 12, 2016 - 15:00 - 16:30
Location: 
University of Antwerp, Stadscampus - Room C.104 (Prinsstraat 13, Antwerpen)
Presenter: 
Annie Zaenen

ABSTRACT - Linguistic literature traditionally assumes that factivity, illustrated in (1)  is a characteristic of particular lexical items together with their constructional environment.

(1) (a) John knows that the earth is round.

(b) John doesn’t know that the earth is round. 

 

In (1) (a) and (b) the speaker is committed to the view that the earth is round. It is assumed that this commitment is signaled by the use of 'know that S’.

Predicates like ‘believe that’ do not show factive behavior:

(2) (a) John believes that the earth is round.

(b) John doesn’t believe that the earth is round.

 

In (1) the sentential complement is assumed to be presupposed whereas in (2) it is asserted. 

In this talk, I will look at examples of several lexical items and their complements that cast doubt on the hypothesis that the factive behavior in (1) is only due to the linguistic form of the sentence. I will mainly concentrate on the behavior of evaluative adjectives in the constructions  in (3) and (4):

(3) John was stupid to leave early.

(4) It was stupid of John to leave early. 

 

and show with corpus and experimental data that in constructions like (4) the content of the infinitival clause influence the judgment. For instance, sentences like (5) are judged not to be factive by a substantial minority of spekars (it is understood as implying that John did not waste money):

(5) John was not stupid to waste money. 

 

I will discuss a couple of potential explanations for this without coming to a firm conclusion. But whatever the explanation, it is important for NLP applications drawing inferences about speaker commitments not to assume that the behavior of factive items is context independent. 

 

BIO - Annie Zaenen received a Ph.D at Harvard in 1980 on a dissertation on Extraction Rules in Icelandic. With Joan Maling she focused the attention of the syntax community on phenomena such as Icelandic quirky case and its consequences for the universality of Chomsky's that-trace filter. She has contributed to the theory of Lexical Functional Grammar (LFG)  with the development of notions such as long-distance dependencies, functional uncertainty and the difference between subsumption and equality. She also developed a morphological analyser for French that, after some revisions, became an Inxight product. After a stint as an area manager at the Xerox European Research Center near Grenoble, France, in the 1990s, she moved back to the Bay Area doing research since 2001. She retired from PARC in 2011 and continues working at CSLI and teaching Linguistics at Stanford. She is the editor of an online CSLI journal, LiLT (Linguistic Issues in Language Technology). 

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