Experimental Evidence for a Semantic Account of Free Choice
Morwenna Hoeks, Grzegorz Lisowski, Jonathan Pesetsky & Alexandre Cremers
(ILLC, University of Amsterdam)
Saturday (April 22nd), 13:45-14:10
Lipsius 148

A longstanding debate in the fields of semantics and pragmatics concerns free choice (FC) readings of modalized disjunctions. Approaches to this puzzle come in two varieties. First, semantic approaches analyze FC effects using novel denotations for modals or disjunction (Zimmermann, 2000). Second, pragmatic approaches explain them as implicatures following Kratzer & Shimoyama (2002). 

In this study, we report the results of two acceptability judgment tasks testing predictions of recent theories from each family: Fox's (2007) scalar implicature account and Aloni's (2016) state-based account. These accounts make different predictions regarding the interaction between the scope of the disjunction relative to the modal and the opinionatedness of the speaker. 

Our results showed that (A) FC readings are available for wide scope so long as the speaker is opinionated, even when “either” blocks reinterpretation as narrow scope, and (B) FC is always available in narrow scope. Both findings contradict judgments reported in Fox (2007) which were generally accepted in the literature. These findings thus suggest that Aloni's semantic account of FC is in a better position than Fox's or any pragmatic account when it comes to interactions between scope and speaker knowledge.