What can electrophysiology tell us about the cognitive processing of scalar implicatures?

Stephen Politzer-Ahles

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


One of the most widely studied phenomena in neuropragmatics—the study of how the brain derives context- and speaker-based aspects of meaning—is scalar implicature. A scalar implicature is the interpretation of a proposition like Some of the students failed as meaning that a stronger proposition (Not all of the students failed) is not true. While scalar implicatures have been a significant object of study for decades, in recent years there has been an explosion of experiments investigating them using neuroscientific methods, particularly electroencephalography. Much of this research aims to identify neural substrates of comprehending scalar implicatures. Here, I review the extant findings and argue that the most of these studies have not directly observed neural correlates of scalar implicatures; rather, they have mostly observed downstream and/or domain-general processes that happen to be related to implicatures, but not uniquely so. I argue that an instrumental approach to neuroscience—one that treats brain components not as objects of research in of themselves, but as tools for learning about pragmatics—would be a valuable addition to this emerging field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalLanguage and Linguistics Compass
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language


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