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A default logic approach to the derivation of natural language presuppositions Mercer, Robert Ernest


A hearer's interpretation of the meaning of an utterance consists of more than what is conveyed by just the sentence itself. Other parts of the meaning are produced as inferences from three knowledge sources: the sentence itself, knowledge about the world, and knowledge about language use. One inference of this type is the natural language presupposition. This category of inference is distinguished by a number of features: the inferences are generated only, but not necessarily, if certain lexical or syntactic environments are present in the uttered sentence; normal interpretations of these presuppositional environments in the scope of a negation in a simple sentence produce the same inferences as the unnegated environment; and the inference can be cancelled by information in the conversational context. We propose a method for deriving presuppositions of natural language sentences that has its foundations in an inference-based concept of meaning. Whereas standard (monotonic) forms of reasoning are able to capture portions of a sentence's meaning, such as its entailments, non-monotonic forms of reasoning are required to derive its presuppositions. Gazdar's idea of presuppositions being consistent with the context, and the usual connection of presuppositions with lexical and syntactic environments motivates the use of Default Logic as the formal nonmonotonic reasoning system. Not only does the default logic approach provide a natural means to represent presuppositions, but also a single (slightly restricted) default proof procedure is all that is required to generate the presuppositions. The naturalness and simplicity of this method contrasts with the traditional projection methods. Also available to the logical approach is the proper treatment of 'or' and 'if ... then ...' which is not available to any of the projection methods. The default logic approach is compared with four others, three projection methods and one non-projection method. As well as serving the function of demonstrating empirical and methodological difficulties with the other methods, the detailed investigation also provides the motivation for the topics discussed in connection with default logic approach. Some of the difficulties have been solved using the default logic method, while possible solutions for others have only been sketched. A brief discussion of a new method for providing corrective answers to questions is presented. The novelty of this method is that the corrective answers are viewed as correcting presuppositions of the answer rather than of the question.

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