Jacques Jayez

Permanent member


My current research field is the layered structure of language. One of the most striking properties of human language is its ability to communicate several pireces of information in one message in a hierarchized way.

The idea of layering has emerged from the work of Paul Grice in the 70's and has gained currency through a number of empirical descriptions (see Geurts 1999, Potts 2005 for surveys and theoretical perspectives).

From a cognitive perspective, the main question about the way(s) different and sometimes partly opposite submessages can be integrated into a coherent whole. This raises at least two subquestions.

  1. The nature of the hierarchy between information. For instance, it has long been recognized that certain expressions convey both a main content and a presupposition, which is supposed to haf a non-focal (peripheral, secondary, less central, less salient, less activated) status, when compared to the main content. For instance, in "Paul has stopped smoking", the main content asserts that Paul does not smoke and the presupposition that he has been smoking. Although the intuition seems to be relatively clear, it is not known at present whether the main content receives a different cognitive treatment than the presupposition or whether the difference between them is more a matter of their respective role in establishing the discourse structure.
  2. The status of potential conflicts. This concerns in particular pragmatic inferences. For instance, one can interpret B's answer in the following dialogue as implying that Paul did read all the books.
    A - Did Paul read all the books from the reading list?
    B - He read some of them. (~> Paul didn't read all of them)
    Given this inference, how is it that the following alternative answer is not felt to be redundant (Horn 1991).
    B' - He read some of them but not all.
    Winterstein (2013) argues that but does not really see the pragmatic inference and that, as a result, B's answer means something like "Paul read books but not all of the books". This behaviour of but is a consequence of the layered structure of information, which separates the main content (Paul read books) from the implicature (Paul didn't read all the books).
    A partly similar problem arises with concessive moves (of the general form A although B), where B makes the provbality of non-A increase).

Current projects

  1. Presupposition projection (so-called weak vs. strong triggers). 2 experiments. One published, one in progress.
  2. Activation difference between main content and presupposition. 7 experiments, 5 done, 1 in progress, 1 in design phase.
  3. Concession. 2 experiments in design phase.


Available at http://perso.ens-lyon.fr/jacques.jayez/