XPRAG Workshop

Bridging Theory and Practice

Friday November 10th, 2023 from 3pm – 5pm EST (12pm PST, 8pm GMT)

Online workshop organized by the American Pragmatics Association Graduate Student Council

Registration now closed.

Mira Ariel, University of Tel Aviv

Anna Papafragou, University of Pennsylvania

Pragmatic theoreticians are becoming increasingly aware of the need for experimental evidence to back up their theories. However, the gap between theory and experimental practice remains large. Both for theoreticians and experimentalists, digesting pragmatic theory and developing concrete testable hypotheses is no easy task.

This workshop is intended to help bridge the gap by fostering dialogue between these two perspectives. We will hear from both a theoretician (Dr. Mira Ariel) and an experimentalist (Dr. Anna Papafragou) about the process of turning pragmatic theories into testable hypotheses and operationalizing pragmatic constructs. Attendees will also have the opportunity to ask questions about their own research roadblock during the panel discussion, or presubmit their questions to be asked by the organizers. This workshop is intended primarily for graduate students and early career researchers, but it is open to any interested.

Abstracts & slides for talks

Anna Papafragou

The development of scalar implicatures: New questions and methods

As children learn to communicate with others, they must develop an understanding of the principles that underlie human conversation. One such principle is the Maxim of Quantity, which states that participants in an exchange are expected to provide as much information as required for the purposes of the exchange (in accordance with their knowledge); this principle is expected to govern all forms of communication, not just language. Here I revisit children’s sensitivity to informativeness, as measured by their ability to compute scalar implicatures, in tasks that (a) require computation of the speaker’s knowledge state, and (b) involve reasoning about linguistic stimuli (words) but also non-linguistic stimuli (pictures). I show that young children use the principle of informativeness to interpret (and draw pragmatic inferences from) both words and pictures, and do so in accordance with speaker knowledge. These results have implications for our understanding of the linguistic, pragmatic, and epistemic abilities of young children. Throughout this talk, I comment on the state of the art in the field of experimental pragmatics, especially the way developmental pragmatics has progressed and evolved over the last decades.


DeLoache, J. S. (2000). Dual representation and young children’s use of scale models. Child Development, 71(2), 329-338.

Kampa, A. & Papafragou, A. (2020). Four-year-olds incorporate speaker knowledge into pragmatic inferences. Developmental Science, 23, e12920.

Kampa, A., & Papafragou, A. (2023). Children and adults apply pragmatic principles when interpreting non-linguistic symbols. Journal of Memory and Language.

Kampa, A., Richards, C., & Papafragou, A. (2023). Preschool children generate quantity inferences from both words and pictures. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Katsos, N., & Bishop, D. V. (2011). Pragmatic tolerance: Implications for the acquisition of informativeness and implicature. Cognition, 120, 67-81.

Papafragou, A., Friedberg, C., & Cohen, M. (2018). The role of speaker knowledge in children’s pragmatic inferences. Child Development, 89, 1642-1656.

Mira Ariel

The long experimental road from semantic meaning to pragmatic Truth-Compatible Inferences


Following Grice (1989) and Horn (1989), scalar quantifiers, as well as or constructions, have been assumed to carry only lower-bounding semantic meanings. Most then means ‘more than half (and possibly all)’, and X or Y means ‘at least one of X and Y (and possibly both)’. Their respective upper-bounded actual interpretations (commonly assumed to be ‘more than half but not all’, ‘one of X and Y, but not both’) were derived by routinely adding on pragmatic upper-bounding scalar implicatures (‘not all’ for most, ‘not both’ for or).


I identified three problems with this analysis in the early 2000s. First, a lower-bounding meaning denotes a complex concept, which should more likely be expressed compositionally (e.g., at least above half, X and/or Y), rather than by a single lexeme (Note that we don’t have a single lexeme for the only lower-bounding ‘less then all/half’ or the only upper-bounding ‘up to half/all’). Second, it is not reasonable to assume that it is the default (upper-bounded) interpretation that is pragmatically derived, while the lower-bounded interpretation, which is barely (if ever) attested in discourse, is the semantic core. Third, pragmatic implicatures are speaker-intended messages, but ‘not all’ and ‘not both’ don’t function as speaker-intended messages, except in contrastive contexts (based on the Santa Barbara Corpus, Du Bois et al., 2000-2005). For example, most Xs…, supports a discourse argument based on the majority set of Xs. But ‘not all’ potentially supports the opposite argumentative direction, based on the minority complement set. The consensus analysis has to assume that speakers routinely generate implicatures which counter their own discourse points.


The typical discourse use of most, I discovered, is indeed lower and upper-bounded, but the upper bound does not come about from an ‘all’ rejection implicature, because the speaker’s argumentative point is better served when the minority complement set is not at all profiled. Just like typical lexemes, most too, I proposed, has a circumbounded semantic meaning (developed out of meaning of ‘the lion’s share’): ‘a proper subset larger than 50%’, where both the lower- and the upper-bounded aspects are lexically specified.


I then had to account for attested True judgments by participants for e.g., most Xs in the face of an ‘all’ state of affair. Such judgments seem to testify to the availability of the lower-bounding meaning after all. Developing Koenig‘s (1991) distinction between semantic meanings and states of affairs merely compatible with such meanings I proposed that most (and later some) have circumbounded meanings, which can (but crucially, need not) be considered as compatible with the subsuming ‘all’ state of affairs.


I therefore needed to show a differential participant behavior re meaning versus re truth judgments. Specifically, that the latter do not actually tap into the purely speaker-intended meaning, because they may involve Truth-Compatible Inferences (TCIs) in addition. These potentially bridge the gap between the (circumbounded) speaker-intended meaning and the ‘all’ state of affairs. Thus began my long road from my initial theoretical hunch to experimental substantiation. I needed to show that participants distinguish between the speaker-intended meaning and states of affairs potentially compatible with those meanings.


Ariel (2004) presented differential results from two experimental tasks. I have later dubbed these Participant-Control tasks and After-the-fact tasks (Shetreet and Ariel, 2023). In a Participant-Control task, it is the participant who controls the correspondence between the target expression and the state of affairs intended by the speaker. Picture matching tasks are one such task. These tasks, I predicted, would overwhelmingly yield circumbounded responses. Indeed, in such a task participants refused to confirm that the speaker could have intended ‘100%’ for most, even when no proper upper-bounded option was provided (all other options were less than 51%). Participants consistently preferred a ‘none of the above’ response over the supposedly perfectly legitimate semantic lower-bounded ‘100%’. At the same time, when presented with a target most… against an ‘all’ state of affairs (the correspondence here established by the experimenter) the same participants were sometimes willing to confirm as True the most sentence against an ‘all state of affairs. Crucially, however, the rate of these lower-bounded responses were lower than the upper-bounded responses in the Participant-control task, and they were not at all consistent.


This is exactly what I predicted. When the participant controls the correspondence between the target expression and the speaker-intended state of affairs, we only get circumbounded responses. When the task allows participants to consider after-the-fact TCIs some of them mobilize those and judge the sentence true.


In the following 20 some years I have employed this two-task examination in some and in or studies too. Results for all three expressions have been consistent: Circumbounded readings are consistently and overwhelmingly chosen when the participant has control over the correspondence between the expression and the state of affairs. Lower-bounded responses only show up in After-the-fact tasks, and only inconsistently so.   




Ariel, Mira. 2004. Most. Language 80:658–706.

Du Bois, John W., Wallace L. Chafe, Charles Meyer, Sandra A. Thompson, Robert Englebretson and Nii Martey. 2000-2005. Santa Barbara corpus of spoken American English, Parts 1-4: Philadelphia: Linguistic Data Consortium.

Grice, H. Paul. 1989. Studies in the way of words. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Horn, Laurence R. 1989. A natural history of negation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Koenig, Jean-Pierre. 1991. Scalar predicates and negation: Punctual semantics and interval interpretations. In Chicago Linguistic Society 27. Chicago: Chicago Linguistics Society, 140-155.

Shetreet, Einat and Mira Ariel. 2023. Taking control over weak scalar expressions. Tel Aviv University.