LINGUIST List 15.1953

Tue Jun 29 2004

Review: Semantics/Pragmatics: Beaver (2001)

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  1. Mayumi Masuko, Presupposition and Assertion in Dynamic Semantics

Message 1: Presupposition and Assertion in Dynamic Semantics

Date: Tue, 29 Jun 2004 12:34:25 +0900
From: Mayumi Masuko <>
Subject: Presupposition and Assertion in Dynamic Semantics

AUTHOR: Beaver, David I.
TITLE: Presupposition and Assertion in Dynamic Semantics
SERIES: Studies in Logic, Language and Information
PUBLISHER: CSLI Publications
YEAR: 2001
Announced at
Mayumi Masuko, Waseda University
The book is divided into two parts. Part I introduces basic concepts
and methods, reviews past work and provides introductory accounts of
dynamic semantics and 'accommodation'. Part II then develops a theory
of presupposition couched in dynamic semantics.
Chapter 1 begins by introducing the notion of presupposition by citing
Frege's (1892) classic examples. After providing a list of expressions
and constructions that are said to induce presupposition,
characteristics that presupposition has traditionally been said to
have are discussed: projection/heritability and
Chapter 2 is mainly a review of past theories. It starts with an
explanation of how logical connectors and negation may work within
multivalent logic, which is then rejected along with other semantic
theories because they cannot account for presupposition cancellation
by negation, disjunction of conflicting presuppositions, and
presupposition projection in conditionals.
Chapter 3 reviews theories of the projection problem (most notably
Karttunen 1973, Gazdar 1979 and van der Sandt 1982 and 1988) and
divides them into two categories (i.e. cancellation theories and
filtration ones). Beaver argues neither is satisfactory and tries
combining the two, only to reject them for not solving all problems.
Chapter 4 goes through various versions and/or frameworks of dynamic
semantics and points out problems with the extant theories.
Chapter 5 examines theories of 'accommodation' (Lewis 1979) within
dynamic semantics, i.e. Heim (1983) and van der Sandt (1992), and ends
with a suggestion that the concept of projection may not be compatible
with accommodation. Beaver argues the former really is a problem of
compositionality and the latter encompasses many other issues and is
much more complex.
Part II begins with an overview of one type of dynamic semantics,
i.e. update logic, and proceeds to the exposition of Beaver's own
system called ABLE (A Bit Like English), in which a solution of
presupposition projection is couched.
Chapter 6 gives the precis of update logic. Chapter 7 explicates how
ABLE works. Chapter 8 extends ABLE so that it can deal with modality
and its interaction with quantification. Chapter 9 offers a treatment
of presupposition accommodation within a system called Kinematic
Montague Grammar, in which ABLE is embedded. Chapter 10 examines
multivalent logic, and assertion, denial, satisfaction, accommodation
and cancellation of presupposition within dynamic semantics. Chapter
11 finishes the book by summarising its strong point over previous
theories and addressing some remaining issues. There is an appendix
which lists the main properties of ABLE.
This book offers a detailed review of previous major theories on
presupposition and presents a formal account which Beaver argues
overcomes the shortcomings of the extant theories. It is easier to
follow than Beaver (1997), and readable even for the
non-formally-minded (myself included).
One qualm I have with the book lies with some of the arguments Beaver
offers against the previous work, and the choice of examples he uses
for this purpose. For instance, in Chapter 3, Beaver argues against
Gazdar (1979) using E109 (p.78):
E109 If Nixon invites Angela Davis to the Whitehouse [sic] and regrets
having invited a black militant to his residence, then he will
organise a cover-up.
The successful interpretation of this depends on whether the
background knowledge includes information concerning a particular
individual (in this case Angela Davis); at issue here is the
difference between Beaver's background knowledge and
Gazdar's. Considering the time of writing (the mid-1970s), I think it
was reasonable for Gazdar to have assumed that the predominantly
Anglo-American audience knew who Davis was. As his theory attempts to
model the speaker's knowledge, rather than mutual knowledge which
Beaver's book claims to account for, as a counter-argument, this is
rather unconvincing; all the more so as the insufficiency of Gazdar
(1979) has been shown, for instance, by Soames (1982) without
resorting to such examples. Similarly, when arguing against Heim
(1983) and van der Sandt (1988; 1992) in Chapter 8 (pp.217-225),
Beaver uses a two-sentence discourse, which restricts the domain of
quantification in a certain way without formally describing how this
occurs. It does not seem reasonable to me to presume Heim and van der
Sandt could not make right predictions on the basis of this. This I
find rather unfortunate, for it leaves the reader with the impression
(probably a misleading one at that) that the force of his argument is
not as strong as he claims it to be.
Another point is the balance of the book. Personally, I would have
preferred Chapters 10 and 11 longer because that's where Beaver's
forte potentially lies; I say 'potentially' because most of the
issues covered there are left for further research. But this is only
a personal preference.
Beaver, D. I. (1997) ''Presupposition'', in J. van Benthem and A. ter
Muelen (eds.) The Handbook of Logic and Language, pp.939-1008,
Elsevier, Amsterdam.
Frege, G. (1892) ''Uber Sinn und Bedeutung'', in Zeitschrift fur
Philosophie und philosophisce Kritik, pp.20-50.
Gazdar, G. (1979) Pragmatics: Implicature, Presupposition and Logical
Form. New York: Academic Press.
Heim, I. (1983) ''On the projection problem for presuppositions'', in
Second Annual West Coast Conference on Formal Semantics, pp.114-126.
Karttunen, L. (1973) ''Presupposition of Compound Sentences'',
Linguistic Inquiry 4: 167-193.
Lewis, D. (1979) ''Scorekeeping in a language game'', Journal of
Philosophical Logic 8: 339-359.
Soames, S. (1982) ''How Presuppositions are Inherited: A Solution to
the Projection Problem'', Linguistic Inquiry 13:483-545.
van der Sandt, R. (1982) Kontekst en Presuppositie: Een Studie van
het Projektieprobleem en de Presuppositionele Eigenschappen van de
Logisch Konnektieven. PhD dissertation, Nijmegen Institute of
van der Sandt, R. (1988) Context and Presupposition. London: Croom Helm.
van der Sandt, R. (1992) ''Presupposition projection as anaphora
resolution'', Journal of Semantics 9: 333-377.

Mayumi Masuko received an MPhil and a PhD in linguistics from the
University of Cambridge. She is currently Associate Professor of
Linguistics at the School of International Liberal Studies, Waseda
University. Her main research interest lies in the interaction between
semantics (broadly conceived) and morphosyntax.
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