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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Pragmatic factors can explain variation in interpretation preferences for quantifier-negation utterances: A computational approach


Traditional investigations of quantifier-negation scope ambiguity (e.g., Everyone didn't go, meaning that no one went or not everyone went) have focused on universal quantifiers, and how ambiguity in interpretation preferences is due to the logical operators themselves and the syntactic relation between those operators. We investigate a broader range of quantifiers in combination with negation, observing differences in interpretation preferences both across quantifiers and also within the same quantifier (confirmed by corpus analysis). To explain this variation, we extend a computational cognitive model that incorporates pragmatic context-related factors, and which previously accounted for every-negation, to predict human interpretation preferences also for some and no. We evaluate the model's predictions against human judgments for quantifier-negation utterances, finding a strong qualitative and quantitative match when the listener has particular expectations about the world in which the utterance occurs. These results suggest that pragmatic factors can explain variation in interpretation preferences.

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