an odd example of legalese

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 31 01:18:53 UTC 2012

On Jan 30, 2012, at 7:50 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:

> At 1/30/2012 03:37 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> (3) "free-choice" permission and possibility contexts
>> "You can go to the movies or the beach" = "You can go to the movies"
>> & "You can go to the beach"
>> "He could be Italian or Greek" = "He could be Italian" & "He could be Greek"
> Is this really correct?  Aren't these disjunctive choices?  The &
> says that both are possible together.  But
> "You can go to the movies or you can go to the beach, but not both
> (at the same time)."
> "He could be Italian or he could be Greek, but he cannot (no one can) be both."
That's a relevant, but orthogonal factor.  Our assumptions about the world determine whether the "both" is a possibility, but it's never guaranteed, any more than in "He can be Italian, and he can (also) be Greek: hard to say which he is". If I say "You can have soup and you can have salad", there's no guarantee that you can have both.  And you can certainly tell a child who says there's nothing to do, "You can go to the movies, and you can go to the beach, but you can't do both" without contradiction.  Or "We can spend our vacation in the mountains and we can spend it on the shore.  Not enough time to do both, though."

But it's partly based on our real world assumptions: If you change the example to "It could be cold or snowy": this says each is an active possibility, but it doesn't either guarantee or rule out the possibility that it could be both, since coldness is compatible with snow in a way of Italianness vs. Greekness.

Notice also that you've altered the examples:  for many (not all) speakers, the possibility of conjunctive readings is reduced in full as opposed to reduced disjunctions, i.e. in your "You can go to the movies or you can go to the beach" vs. my example (actually Hans Kamp's, from a 1973 paper) "You can go to the movies or (to) the beach".  For some speakers the former allows only the "I can't remember which" reading, not the "it doesn't matter which" (= "free choice permission") one.


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