Projects in Previous Years

1st Semester 2016/17: Experimenting with Free Choice

Alexandre Cremers
If you are interested in this project, please contact the instructor by email.
Free-choice effects describe the interaction of a disjunction and an existential modal as in sentences (1) and (2):

(1) You may have the cake or the ice cream

(2) You may have the cake or you may have the ice cream

Both sentences convey that the addressee may choose between the cake and the ice cream, which suggests that they in fact mean "you can have the cake and you can have the ice cream''.

Two approaches have been proposed to derive this unexpected conjunctive reading. Semantic accounts rely on a richer semantics for modals and/or disjunctions, so that the sentences (1)-(2) may receive the free-choice reading as their semantic meaning. Pragmatic approaches leave the semantics untouched but propose strengthening mechanisms which derive free-choice as a separate inference.

Arguments in favor of both approaches are numerous and some experimental work has provided data in favor of one or the other, but the debate is still open. The goal of this project will be to test the predictions of a new proposal by Maria Aloni, in which the speaker's authority plays a role in the availability of free-choice ("undisputability"), and to look at differences between (1) and (2) in an experimental setting.