Grammaticalized number, implicated presuppositions, and the plural

Adam Liter, Tess Huelskamp, Christopher C. Heffner, Cristina Schmitt

Plural morphology exhibits differing interpretations across languages. For example, in downward entailing contexts in English, the plural receives a one or more (or inclusive) interpretation, whereas in Korean-like languages the plural always receives a more than one (or exclusive) interpretation, regardless of context. Previous experimental work using an artificial language suggests that such differences may follow from structural properties of these languages (Liter, Heffner & Schmitt 2017), namely lack of grammaticalization of the plural/singular distinction. In this paper we adopt Sauerland, Anderssen & Yatsushiro’s (2005) implicated presupposition analysis of the plural (the English plural is semantically unmarked, whereas the Korean plural is semantically marked, carrying a presupposition that the cardinality of its referent is greater than one) in order to test two hypotheses about the interpretation of the plural. Using an artificial language learning paradigm identical to that in Liter, Heffner & Schmitt (2017) with non-grammaticalized number but with a much greater frequency of singular/plural NPs in the input, we test (i) whether semantic markedness of the plural should be linked to the non-grammaticalization of the number paradigm; or (ii) whether semantic markedness follows from insufficient statistical evidence for simplifying the lexical entry for the plural. Our results show that participants continue to assign an exclusive interpretation to plural morphology under the scope of negation, which is compatible with the hypothesis that non-grammaticalized number entails semantic markedness.