Generics and mental representations

Linguistics and Philosophy 27 (5):529-556 (2004)
It is widely agreed that generics tolerate exceptions. It turns out, however, thatexceptions are tolerated only so long as they do not violate homogeneity:when the exceptions are not concentrated in a salient ``chunk'''' of the domain ofthe generic. The criterion for salience of a chunk is cognitive: it is dependent onthe way in which the domain is mentally represented. Findings of psychologicalexperiments about the ways in which different domains are represented, and thefactors affecting such representations, account for judgments of generic sentences,facts which cannot be explained by linguistics alone.The reason for the homogeneity requirement itself is, in turn, also dependenton cognitive considerations. Generics express default rules, and psychologicalfindings have shown that, the more homogeneous the domain, the easier it isfor subjects to infer rules about it. Thus, cognitive results form a crucial part of a comprehensive account of the meaningof a linguistic expression.
Keywords mental representations  generics  probability
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DOI 10.1023/B:LING.0000033851.25870.3e
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Bernard Nickel (2008). Generics and the Ways of Normality. Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (6):629-648.
B. Nickel (2010). Generic Comparisons. Journal of Semantics 27 (2):207-242.
Bernhard Nickel (2010). Generically Free Choice. Linguistics and Philosophy 33 (6):479-512.

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