Project Description

There has been a long-standing debate in the theoretical literature at the semantics-pragmatics interface regarding exhaustivity in cleft sentences. While in recent years the majority of theoretical approaches tends toward a semantic analysis of the phenomenon of exhaustivity in clefts (see, e.g., Velleman et al. 2012 (CC BY 3.0 license), Büring and Kriz 2013 (CC BY 4.0 license)), new experimental studies (e.g., Onea and Beaver 2009 (CC BY 3.0 license), Drenhaus et al. 2011 (preprint), Washburn et al. 2013) rather support the pragmatic position; cf. Horn (1981). At closer inspection, however, the experimental studies may not be entirely conclusive be due to the difference between at-issue and non-at-issue inferences not being sufficiently taken into consideration.

In this project we aim to bridge the divide between several theoretical analyses of cleft sentences and the experimental literature through a series of systematic experiments which will allow one to answer the question whether clefts are semantically or pragmatically exhaustive. Our experiments are able to check subtle differences in the predictions made by diverse theories on exhaustivity in clefts, for instance, the predictions from theories that ascribe exhaustivity to implicatures; conditional, homogeneity, or maximality presuppositions; and (non-)at-issueness. The predictions which we are concentrating on concern contextual enrichment dependent on factors such as salience, expectation, and crosslinguistic differences.


Principal Investigators
Prof. Dr. Malte Zimmermann (Universität Potsdam)
Prof. Dr. Victor Edgar Onea Gáspár (Universität Göttingen)

Joseph P. De Veaugh-Geiss (PhD student, Universität Potsdam)
Swantje Tönnis (PhD student, Universität Göttingen)

Student Assistants
Mareike Philipp (Universität Potsdam)
Rico Winkel (Universität Potsdam)
Ferdinand Kreutzkamp (Universität Göttingen)
Friederike Buch (Universität Göttingen)

Former Staff & Student Assistants
Anna-Christina Boell
Julia Bauermann