lemÌc. Lemizh grammar and dictionary

A sketch of pragmatics II

Should I regret having presupposed anything by writing this sentence?

(Anypodetos. Lemizh grammar and dictionary)

Scalar inferences

We will now turn to what has traditionally been called ‘scalar implicatures’, inferences from words that can be arranged in scales from weak to strong, such as ⟨some, many, all⟩, ⟨or, and⟩, and the definite number terms ⟨one, two, three, …⟩. They have been variously argued to actually be implicatures or cases of enrichment and thus explicatures. For our purposes, this makes no real difference.

a weak statement (‘many Narnians’) with two disjunct strong interpretations (1: ‘all Narnians’; 2: ‘many but not all Narnians’), the second of which (strictly speaking: the negation of the first, ‘not all Narnians’) is inferred

The witch turned many Narnians into statues. While this is logically compatible with The witch turned all Narnians into statues. it is usually inferred that → The witch didn’t turn all Narnians into statues. This inference arises because, had the witch actually turned all Narnians into statues, (2) would have been the more relevant utterance, as the addressee could have drawn additional conclusions from the complete absence of unharmed Narnians. Therefore, (1) wouldn’t meet condition (b) of the relevance principle. Regarding scalar inferences in general, we take a weaker statement and conclude that the next stronger claim on the scale is not met.

Propositions (1) and (3) taken together give the final interpretation: ⇒ The witch turned many but not all Narnians into statues.

Depending on the circumstances, the inference might also be → I don’t know whether the witch turned all Narnians into statues.

a weak statement (‘P or Q’) with two disjunct strong interpretations (1: ‘P and Q’; 2: ‘either P or Q’), the second of which (strictly speaking: the negation of the first, ‘not both P and Q’) is inferred
a weak statement (‘if P then Q’) with two disjunct strong interpretations (1: ‘not [if Q then P]’; 2: ‘if any only if P then Q’), the second of which (strictly speaking: the negation of the first, ‘if not P then not Q’, equivalent to ‘if Q then P’) is inferred

Here are some more examples: The witch turned some Narnians into statues. → The witch didn’t turn many Narnians into statues. ⇒ The witch turned some but not many Narnians into statues. We’ll be needing a Snark or a Boojum. → We won’t be needing both a Snark and a Boojum. ⇒ We’ll be needing either a Snark or a Boojum. If I find the password I’ll be able to read Jacopo’s texts. → If I don’t find the password I won’t be able to read Jacopo’s texts. ⇒ If and only if I find the password I’ll be able to read Jacopo’s texts.

Scalar inferences are of course defeasible: Did the witch turn many Narnians into statues? — Yes, even all of them. We’ll be needing a Snark or a Boojum, and if possible both.

Numerals and other non-entailing scales

In contrast to the mentioned scales, where the stronger statement entails (logically requires) the weaker one, stand non-entailing scales, the prototype of which is the scale of definite number terms. Others are ⟨calm, breeze, gale, storm, hurricane⟩ and, in the context of getting actors’ autographs, ⟨Emma Croft, Bob Peck, Richard Harris, Julia Ormond⟩. Compare the following examples to (9): Has Smilla got four chairs? — No, she’s even got six. Did you get Bob Peck’s autograph? — No, I even got Julia Ormond’s.

There are however complications. In some situations, a number term seems to entail the possibility of lower or higher numbers: You may borrow four books. → You may borrow fewer than four books. because you may or may not borrow each of the four books.

You must read four books. → You may read more than four books. because from ‘You must do A (= read four books)’ can’t possibly follow ‘You mustn’t do B (= read one or more additional books)’. Analogously, Peter: I need four more chairs for my party.
Susan: Smilla has got four chairs. → Smilla may have got additional chairs, i.e. more than four.
but Peter: How many chairs has Smilla got?
Susan: Smilla has got four chairs. → Smilla has got exactly four chairs.
because Peter’s question implies the exact number would be relevant to him.

The correct analysis of number terms is still debated; but the described view is good enough for our purposes.

In Lemizh

In Lemizh, not only definite, but also weighting numerals constitute non-entailing scales. So, ‘The witch turned many (dmÌ.) Narnians into statues’ literally says that she didn’t turn all of them into statues. Likewise, (9) becomes ‘Did the witch turn many Narnians into statues? — No, all of them.’ Contrast this with the indefinite numeral in ‘Did the witch turn several (mlÌ.) Narnians into statues? — Yes, even all of them.’

This also means that we have to translate ‘many, perhaps all Narnians’ as naRniÌ dmynÌn jnÌnyn. ‘many or all Narnians’, and ‘Not many arrows hit the target’ as ‘Few arrows hit the target’ (see unit 8, Modified objects).

In other words, most scalar inferences aren’t inferences, or a matter of pragmatics, in Lemizh; they are purely semantic. The ‘or’ and ‘if’ examples, however, are rephrasing enrichments. (See exclusive ‘or’ and Conditional clauses in the tutorial.)


A presupposition of a sentence is an uncontroversial background assumption for that sentence. It survives negation of its ‘parent sentence’, modifying the sentence with a modal verb, and phrasing it as a question or an imperative. (We will use the catch-all term ‘modified sentences’ for all of these, for reasons explained below.) A sentence whose presupposition is not met sounds anomalous, but not downright wrong.

Here is an overview of words and grammatical constructions that trigger presuppositions. The links lead to examples in the tutorial.

TriggerExamplePresupposesFurther examples
P1factive verbsHe regrets / doesn’t regret / should regret eating the sweets.
Does he regret eating the sweets? / Regret eating the sweets!
He ate the sweets.see, notice, know
P2factive adjectivesIt is / isn’t good that you speak.You speak.sad, surprising
P3conjunctional clausesHe thought / didn’t think about everything while he was sitting there.He was sitting there.before, after, during, since, whenever, as (because)
P4cleft sentencesIt is / isn’t her who is building bridges.Someone is building bridges.What she lost was / wasn’t her white mouse. (‘what’- or pseudo-cleft)
P5implicit cleftsShe eats / doesn’t eat it because of the vitamins.She eats it.He gave / didn’t give it to his brother.
P6definite descriptionsI see / don’t see the white mice.The white mice exist.Lucy got a bottle. (proper noun)
P7implicative verbsShe managed / didn’t manage to dance.She tried to dance.succeed, avoid, abstain from
P8changes of stateShe stopped / didn’t stop singing. / Stop singing!She had been singing.still / not anymore
P9implicit changes of stateShe closed / didn’t close the door.The door had been open.open, come/leave (→ She hadn’t/had been here), give, …
P10iterativesI met / didn’t meet her again.I had met her before.
P11comparisonsLorenza is / isn’t a smaller girl than Lucy.Lucy is a girl.Lorenza is as small a girl as Lucy.
P12wh-questions*Who has eaten the sweets?Someone has eaten the sweets.when, where, why

* As mentioned, questions generally share the presuppositions of the corresponding statements. However, wh-questions are also presupposition triggers.

While positive sentences entail their presuppositions, this is not true of modified sentences. For these, the presuppositions have to be inferred pragmatically, which means they are defeasible: He doesn’t regret eating the sweets because in fact he didn’t eat them. If someone has eaten the sweets, then who has eaten them?

The mechanism behind the survival of presuppositions under negation and other modifications, as well as their defeasibility, is thought to be as follows. Negated sentences are consistent with (at least) two explicatures: He doesn’t regret eating the sweets. He ate the sweets, which he doesn’t regret. (explicature accepted under normal circumstances; entails the presupposition) He doesn’t regret eating the sweets. The following is not true: He regrets eating the sweets. (does not entail the presupposition) Explicature (19) only denies the regret and thus makes the stronger claim, while (20) denies the complete sentence (P1) and makes the weaker claim. As described on the previous page, additional information (17) can induce us to switch from the first explicature to the second, which is consistent with not eating the sweets. Schematically:

He ate the sweets.He didn’t eat the sweets.
He regrets it.(P1)impossible
He doesn’t regret it.(19, 20)(20)

Defeating the presupposition means providing information that excludes the left column and leaves us with the bottom right possibility. Triggers (P3) and (P10) do not exclude the top right possibility (‘He thought about it, but not while he was sitting there’ and ‘He did meet her, but for the first time’, respectively), complicating the situation somewhat.

Under construction
This chapter is still under construction.
Please have patience!

The account for other modified sentences is similar; but the details are a matter of ongoing dispute. For example, there is no consensus which, if any, of (19) and (20) is the literal meaning of the negation, and which is an enrichment or another kind of pragmatic inference.

By the way, presuppositions can be ‘misused’ to present information as uncontroversial that in fact isn’t: What will you give me for Christmas? (presupposes: You will give me a Christmas present.) Stop being passive-aggressive! (presupposes: You are being passive-aggressive.)

In Lemizh

Positive sentences

As in English and other languages, positive sentences mostly entail their presuppositions. In terms of Lemizh grammar, these are cases of pragmatic reality: He couldn’t possibly regret eating the sweets unless he has actually eaten them (P1). Your speaking cannot be good unless you actually speak (P2). She couldn’t close the door unless it was open before (P9). And so on.

regretà àvy mlÌvy.He regrets eating the sweets.
regret-fact1 eat-fact-acc2 sweet-acc-acc3.

Sometimes, though, we cannot rely on pragmatic reality: The white mice (P6) might be a hallucination. To exclude this interpretation, we confer grammatical reality on them by a bracket (which amounts to a topicalised predicate) or an inversion.

dmèt mÌse lÌbvy. mÌs lybvÌ dmèty.The seen things, white mice, (exist.)There are some white mice I see. I see the white mice.
see-nom1 mouse-acc-nom2 white-acc-acc3. mouse-acc1 white-acc-acc2 see-nom-acc2.

Recall, though, that a topicalised main predicate creates an expectation for the corresponding object, making such utterances somewhat more costly to process. Also, an unusual word order as in the inversion needs more processing effort. Thus, such constructions are only used if they add to the utterance’s relevance, e.g. if pragmatic reality fails, or for highlighting an object as in clefts (P4, P5).

There is one presupposition trigger that is special in Lemizh. For implicative verbs (P7), only the presupposed action has its own verb, and the presupposing action is expressed with the same verb, using grammatical reality: ‘manage’ is either the topicalisation of the attempted action, or the inversion of ‘try’.

fnà dràwy.She tried to dance.
try-fact1 dance-fact-acc2.
fnÌ dràwy. dràw fnÌa.The tried action, the dancing, exists. She danced, which she had tried.She managed to dance.
try-acc1 dance-fact-acc2. dance-fact1 try-acc-fact2.

‘She avoided dancing’, presupposing that she should have danced, and ‘She abstained from dancing’, presupposing that she wanted to, additionally need negations.

Negative sentences

Negations typically don’t entail their presuppositions and therefore need grammatical reality.

regretanÌ àvy mlÌvy. àv mlyvÌ regretanÌa. He ate the sweets, which he doesn’t regret.He doesn’t regret eating the sweets. (P1)
regret-fact-not-acc1 eat-fact-acc2 sweet-acc-acc3. eat-fact1 sweet-acc-acc2 regret-fact-not-acc-fact2.
thinkanòR jnyÌ zdìlsoR tÌar.He didn’t think about everything while he was sitting there. (P3)
think-fact-not-eps1 1/1-acc-acc2 seat-cons-eps2 this-acc-loc3.

The inverted phrasings of negations and other modified sentences are actually modified objects (hence the terminology), which is more obvious for clefts (P4, P5) and definite descriptions (P6).

bridgeè tynÌe.A bridge builder, not she, exists.It isn’t her who is building bridges.
bridge-nom1 this-acc-not-acc-nom2.
dmatnè mÌse lÌbvy. mÌs lybvÌ dmatnèy.The not-seen things, white mice, exist. The white mice, not seen [by me], exist.I don’t see the white mice.
see-fact-not-nom1 mouse-acc-nom2 white-acc-acc3. mouse-acc1 white-acc-acc2 see-fact-not-nom-acc2.

These two strategies work for the triggers (P1P6); topicalisation is usually the easier solution.

Defeating and avoiding presuppositions

However, we don’t always want the presupposition to be grammatically real. To translate (17) without self-contradiction, we need pragmatic reality, which is of course defeasible.

regretanà àvy mlyvý anàel.He doesn’t regret eating the sweets because [in fact] he didn’t eat them.
regret-fact-not-fact1 eat-fact-acc2 sweet-acc-acc3 PIIn-fact-not-fact-caus2.

For the translation of ‘I didn’t see Amélie watching TV’ without or with a presupposition, see this example in unit 14.

Non-restrictive constructions, again

A non-restrictive construction is encoded information that does not contribute to the basic explicature; it is inserted into a sentence to give rise to an additional basic explicature. Non-restrictive constructions fall outside the scope of negation and other modifications and so survive these operations. Being part of the encoded information, they are not defeasible.

ConstructionExampleAdditionally explicatesFurther examples
N1relative clausesThe poodle, which was born at midnight, is / isn’t / might be yelping.The poodle was born at midnight.The man, who was speaking to the child about elephants, forgot to buy the artichokes. (explanatory relative clause)
Speaking to the child about elephants, the man forgot to buy the artichokes. (circumstantial clause)
N2appositivesThe child talks / doesn’t talk to Nechwatal, a mechanic.Nechwatal is a mechanic.

The two basic explicatures in each of these sentences are processed separately by the addressee. This can be seen by comparing the explanatory and circumstantial clauses with either two separate sentences (which also have two basic explicatures) or a compound sentence with ‘and’ (which only has one): The man forgot to buy the artichokes; he was speaking to the child about elephants. The man forgot to buy the artichokes and he was speaking to the child about elephants. In structures with two explicatures, one can be interpreted as an explanation for the other; thus, (23) is typically understood as ‘The man forgot to buy the artichokes because he was speaking to the child about elephants’. This isn’t possible for the compound sentence (24).

In Lemizh

As discussed in unit 16, translating a non-restrictive construction as a bracket is only appropriate if the referent can be clearly identified beforehand; otherwise, we need to move it into a separate sentence (and thus, in modified sentences, out of the modifier verb’s scope). Strictly speaking, there is no rule saying that the first sentence has to uniquely identify the referent. However, moving part of the identifying information away from the word or phrase in question (here ‘poodle’, ‘Nechwatal’ and ‘[the person] over there’) would mean considerably more processing effort; so the addressee normally understands it as additional information.

Lemizh grammar has no possibility to package two basic explicatures into one sentence. Therefore, we have to express explanatory and circumstantial clauses in separate sentences or – better yet – make the causal relationship to the main sentence explicit by putting them in a conjunctional clause. In doing so their reality becomes a question of presupposition (P3).

Conventional ‘implicatures’

Under construction
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Please have patience!

This is the traditional name for information encoded in a sentence that, like non-restrictive constructions, does not contribute to the basic explicature; however, it does so in a more indirect way. The actual mechanism of conventional ‘implicatures’ is a matter of ongoing dispute; but they are certainly not implicatures in our modern sense. Like non-restrictive constructions, they fall outside the scope of modifications and, being encoded, aren’t defeasible.

TriggerExample‘Implicates’Further examples
C1pragmatic particlesAchilles is / isn’t / may be fast but clumsy. / Is Achilles fast but clumsy?There is a contrast between speed and clumsiness.even, yet/already
C2expressivesThe damn tortoise makes / doesn’t make Achilles run.The speaker has a negative attitude towards the tortoise.honorifics (Ger ‘du/Sie’)
C3counterfactual conditionalsI would / wouldn’t have been able to read Jacopo’s texts if I had found the password.I didn’t find the password.
C4connectivesThey dug up a land mine. Afterwards they found / didn’t find more dangerous (metallic / round / grey) objects.The land mine was a dangerous (metallic / round / grey) object.too (also), in return
C5implicative verbsShe managed / didn’t manage to dance.Dancing is difficult (for her).


Communication is first and foremost a kind of constrained mind-reading with linguistic (and perhaps other) codes just providing evidence (often rich and detailed evidence, but never a complete encoding, never a proof) of the thoughts being communicated.

(Robyn Carston. Thoughts and Utterances)