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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Stefanie RÖHRIG

Evidence for context-dependent interpretation of und

Abstract/Résumé: In contrast to formal semantics, the conjunction and is non-symmetrical in pragmatics. The events in Tom went out and had dinner seem to have occurred chronologically although no explicit order is mentioned. Approaches at the semantics-pragmatics interface are concerned with the meaning and interpretation of and (e.g. Carston 2002, Posner 1979; Txurruka 2003). I tested the hypothesis that the kind and nature of events presented in a context influence the temporal interpretation of the conjunction. Most theoretic approaches do not consider the importance of different kinds of contexts in the interpretation process. There are also no experimental studies that investigate contextual influences on the interpretation of and in a systematic manner. To shed light on how different contexts influence the interpretation of German und ('and') three truth-value judgment studies were conducted. Of interest was whether and how the order of events introduced in a context contributes to the temporal reading of the conjunction. The data demonstrate that the interpretation of und is - at least in German - context-dependent. In each experiment 18 monolingual adults heard 24 short-stories such as in (1) (Exp.I) or (2) (Exp.II) as well as one follow-up statement about the content of the story (a/b). (1) Max went camping. He set up his tent. Then he crept in his sleeping bag. After that he fell asleep. (1a) Max set up his tent and fell asleep. (1b) Max fell asleep and set up his tent. (2) Today it finally snowed. Bob went sledging. Then he built a snowman. Afterwards he threw snowballs. (2a) Bob went sledging and built a snowman. (2b) Bob built a snowman and went sledging. The subsequent statement, which participants had to evaluate as right or wrong included two events, either in the sequential order given in the previous story (a-cases) or in reversed order (b-cases). All possible event-combinations were tested, yielding 6 different combinations. If und is unambiguous, results indicate that it does not have a temporal meaning feature but has the same meaning as its logical counterpart. This is based on the observation that participants accepted the reversed orders in the more neutral contexts of Exp.II in an overwhelming manner (>96%). In contrast, reversed orders were rejected in contexts that describe events that typically or logically occur in a certain order (Exp.I; on avg. 70%), indicating that und is enriched when required by the context. To exclude a memory based interpretation, experiment III was conducted with the same materials as in Experiment II and the modification that und in the follow-up statements was replaced by und dann ('and then'). These findings support theoretic approaches that consider the impact of context on the interpretation process.