Linguistics and Philosophy 45 (2):201-264 (2022)

Philippe Schlenker
Institut Jean Nicod
In several sign languages, plurals can be realized with unpunctuated or punctuated repetitions of a noun, with different semantic implications; similar repetition-based plurals have been described in some homesigns and silent gestures. Unpunctuated repetitions often get approximate ‘at least’ readings while punctuated repetitions typically correspond to ‘exactly’ readings. The prevalence of these mechanisms could be thought to be a case in which Universal Grammar does not just specify the abstract properties of grammatical elements, but also their phonological realization, at least in the visual modality. We explore an alternative in which punctuated and unpunctuated repetitions arise from general properties of iconic representations. On an empirical level, we argue that in ASL, punctuated and unpunctuated repetitions are unlikely to be an exclusively grammatical mechanism, as they can be found with purely iconic representations. On a theoretical level, we argue for a modular account with three components. First, repetition-based plurals can create a simplified pictorial representation. Second, unpunctuated repetitions give rise to pictorial vagueness, resolved by way of quantification over precisifications. Third, a pragmatic process involving strategic reasoning maps these vague representations onto a set of candidate linguistic meanings, including some ‘at least’ plural readings that are best expressed by unpunctuated repetitions.
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DOI 10.1007/s10988-020-09312-9
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