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Based on joint work with Diana Mazzarella and Greg Scontras.
This work presents novel evidence for the interplay between pragmatic reasoning, valence and semantics. As a test case, we explore the interpretation of negated antonyms that have vague or absolute meanings. As we show, speakers can exploit vagueness for social purposes. For example, a speaker may choose to say John is not tall to mitigate the face-threat posed by the simpler utterance John is short (Horn, 1989). The class of so-called absolute adjectives like clean is not inherently vague and can only serve such pragmatic functions in special contexts or constructions (e.g. The shirt is not very clean). In a series of experimental studies we show that valence and adjective semantics jointly modulate the interpretation of gradable adjectives under negation. We interpret these findings as evidence that valence, semantics and pragmatics are much more intertwined than standardly assumed.