Real-time social reasoning: The effect of disfluency on the meaning of some

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The scalar quantifier some is locally ambiguous between pragmatic (some-but-not-all) and literal (some-and-possibly-all) meanings. Although comprehenders typically favour an eventual pragmatic interpretation, debate persists regarding what factors influence interpretation, the time course of comprehension, and whether literal meaning takes precedence. We investigate how the interpretation of some depends on social reasoning derived from a speaker’s manner of delivery. Specifically, we test the effect of disfluency on the derivation of meaning in a context where hesitation may signal speaker embarrassment due to potential face-loss associated with the literal meaning of “some”. Participants (n = 24) viewed displays comprising two different snack quantities while hearing a recorded utterance describing how much a speaker had eaten. Critical utterances (n = 16) contained the quantifier some, half with a filled pause disfluency (“I ate <uh>, some oreos”). Participants’ eye and mouse movements showed (via empirical logit regressions) that fluent utterances yielded a bias toward a pragmatic interpretation, while disfluency attenuated this bias in favour of the literal meaning (where the speaker ate all the oreos). Crucially, this difference emerged rapidly post-onset of some. Taken together, our findings do not support a literal-first account of scalar comprehension, but rather, suggest that some is interpreted rapidly in a context dependent manner
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Cultural Cognitive Science
Early online date21 Sept 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Sept 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • disfluency
  • scalar implicature
  • discourse context
  • eye-tracking
  • mouse-tracking


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