Politeness and honesty contribute additively to the interpretation of scalar expressions

Aidan Feeney, Jean-Francois Bonnefon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Scalar terms have been the focus of much recent attention. People can interpret such terms narrowly, for example, interpreting A or B to convey A or B but not both, on the grounds that a speaker would have explicitly used a more informative term (i.e., and) had he or she been in a position to do so; or they can interpret such terms broadly (A or B or both). Examined here are the effects of politeness contexts and self-rated honesty on people’s interpretation of the scalar connective or. In two experiments, it is shown that participants are less likely to adopt the narrow interpretation when the communicative context is face threatening, and that regardless of context, participants high in self-rated honesty adopt the narrow interpretation to a greater extent than those low in self-rated honesty. These results are consistent with the claim that an assumption of honesty underlies certain pragmatic inferences and suggest that personality may be an important source of individual differences in language interpretation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-190
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Language and Social Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date22 Aug 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013

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