Pragmatics in the interpretation of scope ambiguities
This paper presents a corpus study of pragmatic factors involved in interpreting potentially ambiguous sentences with negation and universal quantifiers, as demonstrated by the Russian sentence Oni ne uspejut vsjo eto sdelat’ ‘They won’t have time to do all this.’ Ambiguity in such sentences results from potential differences in scope assignment. If negation scopes over the quantifier, we get the interpretation of partial negation: ‘They will manage to do some of these things, but not everything.’ If negation scopes over the verb, we get total negation: ‘They won’t manage to do anything.’
This study is based on Russian and English data extracted from a variety of corpora. We demonstrate that while syntactic conditions where scope ambiguity is possible are different for Russian and English, in situations when both languages allow it, speakers rely on the same pragmatic mechanisms for disambiguation that are based on Gricean cooperation principle and shared background knowledge. Disambiguation is facilitated by lexical markers, different for verb-negated and quantifier-negated readings, and similar in Russian and English. We show that the interpretation of the quantifier is pragmatically different for verb-negated and quantifier-negated readings (emphatic in the former case and quantificational in the latter), and lexical markers of each reading are semantically and pragmatically consistent with this difference. Namely, verb-negated readings occur primarily in the context of demonstrative pronouns in their pragmaticalized meaning of negative assessment and negatively connoted nouns, while quantifier-negated readings occur in the context of verbs with quantitative semantics and quantitative implicatures that consolidate the interpretation of quantification.