We are happy to announce a talk by Nadine Bade (Potsdam) in the Semantics Colloquium.

The talk will take place on campus in IG 4.301.
If you wish to participate virtually via Zoom, please contact Lennart Fritzsche for the link.

Date: January 18, 2024

Time: 4 pm – 6 pm ct

Title: Linguistic Illusions Revisited: The Role of Maximal Informativity
(Joint work with Vera Hohaus and Ryan Walter Smith, The University of Manchester)

Sentences like (1) have featured prominently in the psycholinguistics literature since Watson & Reich (1979) and are generally construed to mean that, regardless of their severity, all head injuries must receive medical attention (see also Sanford & Garrod 1998). A large body of literature has taken this interpretation, while robustly available, to be an illusion that obscures the literal interpretation of the sentence, under which all head injuries can be ignored (see also Higginbotham 1988 and Zimmermann & Sternefeld 2013). Evidence for such a view comes from the structurally parallel case in (2), which is taken to convey that all missiles should be banned, rather than legalised.

(1) No head injury is too trivial to be ignored. 

# Ignore all head injuries!
Don’t ignore any head injuries!

(2) No missile is too small to be banned. 

Ban all missiles!
# Don’t ban any missiles!

Building on the extent-based treatment of negative-polar antonyms in von Stechow (1984), the analysis of too in Meier (2003), and the discussion in Beck & Rullmann (1999), we propose a compositional analysis of depth-charge sentences and the difference between (1) and (2). The alleged illusion under this analysis derives from the interaction of maximal informativity with the monotonicity of the degree predicate that underlies the standard of the comparison.