25 February 2020: Manfred Krifka

Ways of adjusting assertoric strength

Abstract: It is commonly assumed that assertions can be weakened or strengthened (cf. Wolf 2015, Incurvati and Schlöder, 2019). In this talk I will identify two linguistic strategies that lead to the impression of changing assertoric strength and that are arguably embodied in the structure of assertive clauses. (1) Asserting propositions that are subject to epistemic or evidential modifications, such as “It certainly / probably / apparently is raining”, “According to the weather report, it is raining” and “It is raining, I believe”. I argue that these are regular assertions of judgments that make them safer to defend than assertions of the core proposition, ‘it is raining’. As for the epistemic modifiers, I will argue that they are subjective, to be distinguished from objective epsitemics such as “It is certain / probable that it is raining”. (2) Following a view of assertions as public commitments backed up by social sanctions (cf. Peirce, cf. Tuzet 2006; Shapiro to appear), there are operators that refer to the level of such commitments, such as “Honestly / By God / Truly, it is raining”. I will argue for a specific syntactic implementation, postulating a “Commitment Phrase” that takes a “Judgement Phrase” as a complement, which can house different linguistic modifiers or head features. I will show that a semantic interpretation format in which judgement and commitment operators are just treated as non-at-issue meanings on a separate level of semantic interpretation (Gutzmann 2015) is not sufficient and argue for a theory in which those operators are conceived as means to put the core proposition into the common ground.
Gutzmann, Daniel. 2015. Use-conditional meaning: Studies in multidimensional semantics. Oxford University Press.

Incurvati, Luca & Julian J. Schlöder. 2019. ‘Weak assertion’. The Philosophical Quarterly 69: 741-770.

Shapiro, Lionel. to appear. ‘Commitment accounts of assertion’. In: Goldberg, Sanford (ed.), Oxford handbook of assertion.

Tuzet, Giovanni. 2006. ‘Responsible for Truth? Peirce on judgement and assertion’. Cognitio 7: 317-336.

Wolf, Lavi. 2015. Degrees of Assertion. Doctoral dissertation. Negev: Ben Gurion University of the Negev.