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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Mira ARIEL

Or: questioning meaning and use

Abstract/Résumé: It is widely assumed that or is the natural language counterpart of the logical ˅, whose lexical meaning is inclusive, and whose dominant use is exclusive. I will argue against both assumptions, based on discourse examples. 1(a) seems to exemplify an inclusive or, where Roy is evaluating saving the various animals. ‎1(b) seems an exclusive case, where Rebecca instructs her witness to respond with either yes or no: 1. a. ROY: saving the whale, or saving uh ... the .. polar bear, PETE: Right. Pandas, ROY: or making sure there's enough grizzly bears, that's fine. (SBC:003).‎ b. REBECCA: .. always say yes or no, .. as opposed to unhunh or unh-unh, (SBC:008) Surprisingly, while there were 1.6 more exclusive than inclusive ors in SBC, the two uses together comprised less than half of the data, despite my efforts to impose the inclusive/exclusive classification. The most prevalent use of an or construction is for ad hoc, higher-level categories. These are constructed (sometimes on the fly) based on the explicit disjuncts, each taken as a member of the higher-level category. In fact, I claim that the seemingly inclusive and exclusive examples in (‎1) are instances of the higher-level category use. Roy is talking about ‘endangered animals’, and Rebecca about ‘a linguistic (rather than paralinguistic) response’. The classical assumption about the dominance of the exclusive reading is not borne out, then. What of the classical semantic analysis? If what speakers intend to convey is the higher-level category, then they are not necessarily committed to even one of their disjuncts being true. In fact, this lack of commitment (at the lexical level) is common to all disjunctions. (‎2) raises options, none of which is the speaker guaranteeing (note that the speaker does not mean that what he doesn’t know is which of the options he raised is correct): 2. ... part of the shares were transferred to the children ... or they were returned and divided up or partly returned I don’t remember... (Originally Hebrew, Lotan 1990:4). These findings challenge the assumption that ˅ functions as the lexical meaning for or. These discourse-based conclusions are quite compatible with recent typological work on disjunctions (Mauri, 2008 and onwards) that the basic concept of or pertains to irrealis, and with semantic analyses of disjunctions as epistemic possibilities (Geurts, 2005, Zimmermann, 2000). I will propose that the lexical meaning of or is extremely minimal, ‘raising options which can be construed as members of a higher-level category’. Exclusive, inclusive, higher-level category and other readings are all derived pragmatic interpretations (explicatures).