Academic journal article The Spanish Journal of Psychology

The Semantics of 'Unless' Conditionals: Evidence from 'Unless' and Disjunctive Inferences

Academic journal article The Spanish Journal of Psychology

The Semantics of 'Unless' Conditionals: Evidence from 'Unless' and Disjunctive Inferences

Article excerpt

We report the results of an experiment investigating conditional inferences from conditional assertions such as 'Juan won't go to León unless Nuria goes to Madrid' and 'Either Nuria goes to Madrid or Juan won't go to León'. This experiment addresses Dancygier's claims about the semantics of 'unless' by examining inferential endorsements of 'not-A unless B' and 'Either B or not-A' in the canonical order, presenting the categorical premise after the conditional assertions, and in the inverse order, presenting the categorical premise before the conditional assertions. The results of the experiment confirm that the representation of 'unless' includes two possibilities, although as Dancygier holds one of the possibilities may not be complete. The implications of the results are discussed in the context of the strategic nature of conditional reasoning and recent convergent theories of linguistic processing.

Keywords: conditionals, mental models, reasoning.

Se presentan los resultados de un experimento en el que se investigaron las inferencias realizadas a partir de enunciados condicionales como 'Juan no irá a León a menos que Nuria vaya Madrid' y 'O Nuria va a Madrid o Juan no irá a León'. En este experimento se abordan las concepciones de Dancygier sobre la semántica de 'a menos que' mediante el estudio de las inferencias que se extraen de 'no-A a menos que B' y de 'o B o no-A', en el orden canónico, al presentar la premisa categórica después de la afirmación condicional; y en el orden inverso, presentando la premisa categórica antes que la afirmación condicional. Los resultados confirman que la representación de 'a menos que' incluye dos posibilidades aunque, como Dancygier sostiene, una de las posibilidades puede no ser completa. Las implicaciones de los resultados se discuten en el contexto de la naturaleza estratégica del razonamiento condicional y de las teorías convergentes recientes sobre el procesamiento lingüístico.

Palabras clave: condicionales, modelos mentales, razonamiento.

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Our aim is to examine Dancygier's hypothesis about the meaning of 'unless' conditionals by using a conditional inference task. Our global theoretical framework is mental model theory; it will allow us to make precise predictions in order to check Dancygier's hypothesis. We outline a mental model theory of conditional reasoning and consider the possibilities people keep in mind to understand 'unless' and disjunctive conditionals.

A warning, frequently repeated in Spain during the Winter of 2010, expressed as a 'not- A unless B' assertion, was as follows:

"President Zapatero will not win the 2012 election unless he achieves clear economic growth"

This assertion has an illocutionary force which focuses on the desirability of the protasis (to achieve an economic growth). This sentence may be interpreted in terms of two possibilities: the first asserts a probable outcome: 'President Zapatero will not win the 2012 election' (not-A); the second the unique, exceptive situation in which President Zapatero might win: by achieving clear economic growth (B and A). Hence, the meaning of 'unless' is interpreted in a way similar to an exclusive disjunctive assertion, as follows:

"Either President Zapatero achieves clear economic growth or he will not win 2012's election"

In English and Spanish, as in many other languages, this kind of disjunctive assertion conveys a conditional meaning (see, for Spanish, Montolío, 1999, p. 3697). This assertion maintains the warning while also stressing the illocutionary force of 'achieving clear economic growth'. The interpretation of this disjunctive assertion also implies, from the outset, the construction of two possibilities or models.

We report an experiment that compares reasoning from 'not-A unless B' and 'Either B or not-A' sentences. Our aim is to advance understanding about representing and reasoning with 'unless' conditionals. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.