The Statistical, the Prescriptive, and the Undifferentiated.

Joshua Knobe (Yale)


Some linguistic expressions are used to express statistical claims (e.g., quantificational adverbs like usually), while others are used to express prescriptive claims (e.g., deontic modals like should). Strikingly, however, a series of recent studies indicate that people's use of certain expressions is actually governed by a mix of the statistical and very prescriptive. This same basic result has been obtained in research on a number of very different sorts of linguistic expressions: impersonal pronouns, generics, gradable adjectives, and root modals. I will be discussing research on all four of these types of expressions, and on an attempt to understand why people's use of all of them involved this same statistical/prescriptive mixture.