Some but not all dispreferred turn markers help to interpret scalar terms in polite contexts


In polite contexts, people find it difficult to perceive whether they can derive scalar inferences from what others say (e.g., does ‘some people hated your idea’ mean that not everyone hated it?). Because this uncertainty can lead to costly misunderstandings, it is important to identify the cues people can rely on to solve their interpretative problem. In this article, we consider two such cues; Making a long Pause before the statement, and prefacing the statement with Well. Data from eight experiments show that Pauses are more effective than Wells as cues to scalar inferences in polite contexts???because they appear to give a specific signal to switch expectations in the direction of bad news, whereas Well appears to give a generic signal to make extra processing effort. We consider the applied value of these findings for human???human and human???machine interaction, as well as their implications for the study of reasoning and discourse.

Thinking and Reasoning
JF Bonnefon
JF Bonnefon
Behavioral Scientist