Generics and typicality


  • Robert Van Rooij



Cimpian et al. (2010) observed that we accept generic statements of the form ‘Gs
are f ’ on relatively weak evidence, but that if we are unfamiliar with group G and we learn a
generic statement about it, we still interpret it in a much stronger way: (almost) all Gs are f .
This paper makes use of notions like ‘representativeness’ and ‘contingency’ from (associative
learning) psychology to provide a semantics of generics that explains why people accept generics
based on weak evidence. We make use of the Heuristics and Biases approach of Tversky
and Kahneman (1974) and the Associative Theory of Probability Judgements to explain pragmatically
why people interpret generic statements in a much stronger way. The spirit of the
approach has much in common with Leslie’s (2008) cognition-based ideas about generics, but
the semantics is grounded on Cohen’s (1999) relative readings of generic sentences. The basic
intuition is that a generic of the form ‘Gs are f ’ is true, not because most Gs are (or tend to
have) f , but because f is typical for G, which means that f is valuably associated with G.
Keywords: generics, association, probabilities, pragmatics.





Van Rooij, Robert. 2018. „Generics and Typicality“. ZAS Papers in Linguistics 61 (Januar):443-61.