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It’s All Semantics

For reasons that may not make sense to anyone else, I recently performed a Google search for “They Might Be Giants” and “Belly Button.” This was the second hit: a paper by a Stanford linguist named David Beaver (that’s not an aptonym, is it?) called “Have You Noticed That Your Belly Button Lint Colour Is Related to the Colour of Your Clothing?” Here is the abstract:

Karttunen identified a class of semi-factive verbs. This was erroneous, but enlightening. Stalnaker and Gazdar explained Karttunen’s data as involving cancellation of presuppositions as a result of pragmatic reasoning, an account reformulated by van der Sandt. In this paper I present a large number of naturally occurring examples bearing on the question of how factive verbs interact with implicatures, and show that many of these examples are problematic for existing accounts. I end by presenting suggestive evidence involving the relation between presupposition and information structure.

I love living in a society that values this kind of research. But I also think it is funnier than Woody Allen‘s best writing. The above paragraph reminded me a bit of some earlier economics papers I discussed, as well as a comment once made by a grouchy New York Times writer discussing another New York Times writer who had just received a promotion: “He writes as if he were badly translated from the Croatian.”

If anyone can translate the abstract above out of the Croatian, and additionally tell me how it relates to belly buttons, I’d be most obliged.