Pragmatic Reasoning through Semantic Inference

TitlePragmatic Reasoning through Semantic Inference
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsBergen, L, Levy, R, Goodman, ND
JournalSemantics and Pragmatics
Volume Vol 9 (2016)
ISSNISSN: 1937-8912

A number of recent proposals have used techniques from game theory and Bayesian cognitive science to formalize Gricean pragmatic reasoning (Franke 2009, Frank & Goodman 2012, Goodman & Stuhlmüller 2013, Jäger 2012). We discuss two phenomena which pose a challenge to these accounts of pragmatics: M-implicatures (Horn 1984) and embedded implicatures which violate Hurford’s constraint (Hurford 1974, Chierchia et al. 2012). While techniques have been developed for deriving M-implicatures, Hurford-violating embedded implicatures pose a more fundamental challenge, because of basic limitations in the models’ architecture. In order to explain these phenomena, we propose a realignment of the division between semantic content and pragmatic content. Under this proposal, the semantic content of an utterance is not fixed independent of pragmatic inference; rather, pragmatic inference partially determines an utterance’s semantic content. We show how semantic inference can be realized as an extension to the Rational Speech Acts framework (Goodman & Stuhlmüller 2013). The addition of lexical uncertainty derives both M-implicatures and the relevant embedded implicatures, and preserves the derivations of more standard implicatures. We use this principle to explain a novel class of implicature, non-convex disjunctive implicatures, which have several theoretically interesting properties. In particular, these implicatures can be preserved in downward-entailing contexts in the absence of accenting, a property which is predicted by lexical uncertainty, but which violates prior generalizations in the literature (Horn 1989, Fox & Spector Forthcoming).


This is an early access version of Bergen, Leon, Roger Levy, Noah Goodman. 2016. Pragmatic reasoning through semantic inference. Semantics and Pragmatics 9(20). This version will be replaced with the final typeset version in due course. NB:page numbers will change, so cite with caution.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution License (



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