Philippe Schlenker

The Project

Presupposition: A formal pragmatic approach


Dr. Philippe Schlenker
Institute Jean-Nicod, CNRS
École Normale Supérieure
29, rue d’Ulm
75005 Paris

Philippe Schlenker, 36 year-old French citizen, is currently an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He gained his first PhD in Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He completed his second PhD in Philosophy,  and his Habilitation, at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

Dr. Schlenker has received a number of grants, including most recently an NSF grant on Formal semantic and pragmatic approaches to binding theory.  He is on the editorial board of several journals and is associate editor of the Journal of Semantics.

Project Description

Presuppositions are ubiquitous in language, and they display very puzzling logical properties. Whether one says that “John knows that he is an idiot” or that “John doesn’t know that he is an idiot”, one presupposes that John is indeed less than brilliant; and similarly if one asks: “Does John know that he is an idiot?”.

Since the 1970’s, presuppositions have been the object of considerable attention in formal linguistics, but the field has been caught in a theoretical dilemma. Pragmatic approaches have sought to derive the behavior of presuppositions from a theory of communicative rationality, but they have failed to be formally explicit and empirically general.  Semantic approaches have produced powerful formal tools that have led to broader empirical coverage, but this success was achieved at the cost of explanatory depth: the tools involved were so powerful that they made it possible to stipulate many results that one would have liked to derive.

This project seeks to develop a new approach to presuppositions, one that combines the explanatory depth of pragmatic analyses with the formal rigor of semantic theories. Schlenker and his team will construct explicit models to account for fine-grained linguistic data, and they will employ logical and psycholinguistic methods to compare the proposed framework with competing accounts and to establish data that can adjudicate between them.