The symmetry problem: current theories and prospects

Natural Language Semantics 26 (2):85-110 (2018)

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Abstract
The structural approach to alternatives :669–690, 2007; Fox and Katzir in Nat Lang Semant 19:87–107, 2011; Katzir in Semantics, pragmatics and the case of scalar implicatures, Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp 40–71, 2014) is the most developed attempt in the literature at solving the symmetry problem of scalar implicatures. Problematic data with indirect and particularised scalar implicatures have however been raised :249–270, 2015). To address these problems, Trinh and Haida proposed to augment the theory with the Atomicity Constraint. Here we show that this constraint falls short of explaining minimal variants of the original problems, and moreover that it runs into trouble with the inferences of sentences involving gradable adjectives like full and empty. We furthermore discuss how the structural approach suffers at times from the problem of ‘too many lexical alternatives’ pointed out by Swanson :31–36, 2010), and at other times from the opposite problem of ‘too few lexical alternatives’. These three problems epitomise the challenge of constructing just enough alternatives under the structural approach to solve the symmetry problem in full generality. Finally, we also sketch another recent attempt at solving the symmetry problem, Bergen et al., 2016), which is based on relative informativity and complexity. We argue that Bergen et al. do not provide a general solution to the symmetry problem either, by pointing to some of the open problematic cases that remain for this approach as well. We conclude that while important progress has been made in the theory of alternatives for scalar implicatures in the last few years, a full solution to the symmetry problem has not yet been attained.
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DOI 10.1007/s11050-017-9141-z
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References found in this work BETA

A Natural History of Negation.Jon Barwise & Laurence R. Horn - 1991 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 56 (3):1103.
Scalar Implicatures in Complex Sentences.Uli Sauerland - 2004 - Linguistics and Philosophy 27 (3):367-391.
On the Characterization of Alternatives.Danny Fox & Roni Katzir - 2011 - Natural Language Semantics 19 (1):87-107.

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Citations of this work BETA

Keeping It Simple.Tue Trinh - 2018 - Natural Language Semantics 26 (2):111-124.

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