A Commitment-based Analysis of ‘Believe’ as an Implicature Trigger

Graduation dissertation for Master of Science in Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. Supervised by Dr Wataru Uegaki and Dr Ciyang Qing. For the complete draft, please contact me via email.

Abstract: The distribution of believe as a propositional attitude verb exhibits a complicated picture, which calls for a reasonable description of its strength. The observations that believe is typically used as a device for hedging but on other occasions does not allow unsureness motivate my proposal that the hedging sense of believe is realized by a generalized conversational implicature. Upon further examination, I argue that the implicature in question originates from scalar pair <believe, know> that is brought about by a scale of levels of commitment to the truth of the complement. Using Lauer’s (2017) propositional language, I compositionally derive that know induces full assertoric commitment to the truth of its complement while believe induces a level of commitment to the truth of its complement that is lower than full assertoric commitment. This commitment-based analysis provides a plausible characterization of the strength of believe as it delivers desired predictions about the distribution of the predicate.

Keywords: belief, knowledge, assertion, commitment, conversational implicature.