It is only in recent times that pragmatics has started to use experimental methods in order to test contrasting theories on communicative phenomena. Experimental and cognitive pragmatics aims to explain human communication in a theoretically and empirically plausible framework. Researchers working in this framework focus not only on foundational issues concerning communication, but also on questions concerning mental processes underlying comprehension, cognitive modules involved in communication and their interaction, and hypotheses about the nature of mental architecture. In my paper I examine an interesting case-study: scalar implicatures. I compare two different approaches to scalar inferences: the neo-Gricean approach, taking scalar inferences to be generalized implicatures, hence automatically triggered, and the post-Gricean approach, taking scalar inferences to be ordinary inferences, triggered only in particular contexts in order to satisfy the audience’s expectations of relevance. The two approaches are committed to different empirical predictions about the nature and time-course of comprehension of underinformative statements such as “Some elephants are mammals”. In my paper I attempt to adjudicate between the two conflicting predictions focusing on studies by Ira Noveck and collaborators, and critically analyze them in light of work done in different frameworks and studies of developmental psychology.
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