We are happy to announce a talk by Alexander Wimmer (University of Tübingen) at the Semantics Colloquium.

Please register beforehand (s.walter@em.uni-frankfurt.de) to receive the access data to zoom on Thursday shortly before the talk starts.

Title: Minimal sufficiency as implicature cancellation

Date: June 17

Time: 4 pm – 6 pm ct


In his 2012 dissertation, Patrick Grosz assumes two kinds of ONLY, an exclusive and a non-exclusive one, which he also refers to as minimal sufficiency ONLY, henceforth MS-ONLY. German NUR ‘only’ in conditional antecedents is noted by him to be ambiguous between MS- and exclusive ONLY. One factor that clearly disambiguates in favor of MS-ONLY is the insertion of certain particles in the consequent. Consider the following example:

 (1)        Heinrich ist (schon / selbst / auch) froh, wenn nur DREI Katzen kommen.

            Henry is (already / even / also) glad if only THREE cats come

The particles SCHON, SELBST and AUCH, henceforth referred to as EVEN-particles, enforce a reading on which Henry is also happy if more than three cats are around. Such particles are strongly preferred in what I refer to as MS-contexts: here, a context identifying Henry as a cat lover. In the absence of EVEN-particles from the consequent, the preferred reading is that Henry prefers no more than 3 cats to be around, a reading that leads to oddity in an MS-context.

Grosz (2012) ascribes the preference for EVEN-particles to Heim’s (1991) principle Maximize Presupposition! (MP!).

In the meantime, attempts have been made at keeping an exclusive semantics for ONLY and similar particles (Coppock & Beaver 2014, Liu 2017, Panizza & Sudo 2020). The focus of these attempts are non-conditional constructions such as just the thought of him sends shivers down my spine.

My talk offers another such attempt, focusing on ONLY in conditional antecedents. The core idea is inspired by Bade’s (2016) theory Obligatory Implicatures: the preference for EVEN-particles in MS-contexts, rather than being treated as an effect of MP!, is taken to follow from a pressure to cancel a scalar implicature, which would give rise to conditional perfection (only if only 3 cats come, Henry is happy).