A Puzzle about Quasi-Factives

I have puzzled over things I have labeled ‘quasi-factives’. (Maybe ‘pragmatic factives’ would be more accurate.) I wonder whether anyone has written about them. Here are a bunch of examples:

– I didn’t realize that Putin was born in Iowa

– It’s hard to believe that Bill and Hilary are getting divorced

– No one told Liz that Erniefest is funded by the CIA

– Did you hear that Jeff King is moving to Boise State?

The pattern seems to be (i) a reporting or propositional attitude verb with (ii) a surprising proposition as complement, such that (iii) the usual force is of an unequivocal speaker-commitment to the truth of that complement, (iv) the complement is false and yet (iv) the “literal” meaning of the whole is not false. (Either because it’s true, as in the first three, or because the matrix sentence isn’t truth-evaluable, as in the fourth.)

One reason these are interesting is that “what is at issue” is the embedded stuff. Also, that embedded stuff is emphatically not deniable – it is thus unlike a hint, or a particularized conversational implicature. What’s more, as with full-on assertion, ‘How do you know?’ is entirely appropriate, and the duty to defend-or-retract obtains. But why should any of this be, given what the whole means?


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