Researchers at Ecole Normale Supérieure investigate new fallacies with “might”

Salvador Mascarenhas and Léo Picat recently published a proceedings paper in Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT 29) in which they examined the functional properties of the word “might”, as in “It might be raining.” They present evidence in favor of a new family of illusory inferences that depend on “might”. You can download their paper here, and their abstract is here:

We argue that the epistemic modal ‘might’ is a generator of alternatives in the sense of Hamblin semantics (Kratzer & Shimoyama 2002) or inquisitive semantics (Ciardelli, Groenendijk & Roelofsen 2009). Building on methodologies from the psychology of reasoning, we show that ‘might’ patterns with disjunctions and with indefinites in giving rise to a particular kind of illusory inference. The best extant accounts of these illusory inferences crucially involve alternatives, paired with matching strategies (Walsh & Johnson-Laird 2004) or with question-answer dynamics (Koralus & Mascarenhas 2013). Our results constitute further steps toward convergence between theories and methodologies in natural language semantics and the psychology of reasoning.

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