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Review of  Presupposition & Assertion in Dynamic Semantics

Reviewer: Mayumi Masuko
Book Title: Presupposition & Assertion in Dynamic Semantics
Book Author: David I. Beaver
Publisher: CSLI Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 15.1953

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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

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.