Logic and Language

Tom Roberts: Parentheticality and the justification of speech acts

Speaker: Tom Roberts
Title: Parentheticality and the justification of speech acts
Time: 16:00 - 17:30
Location: Online, via Zoom

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So-called 'slifting' sentences in English like (1a) are a grammaticalized variant on truth-conditionally equivalent ordinary embedding constructions (1b). In slifting sentences, the embedding predicate occurs in a noncanonical position, often sentence-finally (Ross 1973).

(1)    a.   She's got enough kumquats, I think.
         b.   I think she's got enough kumquats.

Slifting sentences are typically analyzed as involving a 'main clause' (she's got enough kumquats), which contributes the primary speech act, and a 'parenthetical' (I think) whose function is to modulate the strength of the assertion of the main clause (Urmson 1952, Simons 2007, Maier & Bary 2015, Koev 2019, a.m.o.). However, much less discussed in this literature is the fact that the main clause can also be interrogative, as in (2a):

(2)    a.   Are there any Estonians nearby, I wonder.
         b.   I wonder whether there are any Estonians nearby.

Analyses which take the parenthetical component of a slifting sentence to modulate assertion strength cannot be straightforwardly extended to (2a), which has the illocutionary force of a question. However, I will propose that we can uniformly account for the interpretation of both declarative and interrogative slifting sentences by treating the parenthetical as a justification for the speech act expressed by the main clause, i.e., if the corresponding unslifted sentence were true, it would put the speaker in a position to felicitously utter the main clause on its own. I further show that this notion of justification can account for restrictions on the sorts of predicates that can be used as parentheticals, in both declarative and interrogative slifting sentences.