Friday, January 27: Julian Grove

Please join us this Friday as Julian Grove from the Linguistics Department presents work on presuppositions.

Date and time: Friday, January 27, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Composing presuppositions


In the literature on semantic presupposition, the behavior of presupposition triggers is often explained through a proposal that their meanings are somehow partial. They may, for example, denote partial functions, as in Heim and Kratzer 1998, or they may have meanings making use of “undefined” values, as in trivalent logic accounts. While the latter has devices for representing conditions on the definedness of terms denoting truth values, no account at present (as far as I know) allows for representing the presuppositions of terms of arbitrary type. In this talk, I give a sequent-like notation for reasoning with presuppositions during a semantic derivation. It has three important rules:
(1) Lift: lift a term without presuppositions into a term that presupposes True.
(2) Lower: lower a term with presuppositions whose value itself depends on presuppositions into a simpler term, joining the presuppositions.
(3) Application: apply a function with presuppositions to an argument with presuppositions, carrying along the presuppositions of both.
These rules let one simulate the partial meanings one wants to associate with presupposition triggers, while keeping track of the relevant definedness conditions all along the way. At the same time, because of Application, presupposition projection is automatic. Moreover, presuppositions may be associated with terms of arbitrary type (e.g., e), and meanings can be specified for lexical items that allow them to control how presuppositions are cancelled, are filtered, project, or affect the content of the assertion. Finally, the notation is shown to have a simple model-theoretic interpretation.

Friday, December 2: Greg Kobele

Please join us this Friday as Greg Kobele from the Linguistics Department presents work on Logical Form and direct compositionality.

Date and time: Friday, December 2, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: LF-interpretation, compositionality


LF-interpretation is not compositional: the meaning of an
expression is not a function of the meanings of its parts, and this
because most of the parts used in building more complex expressions are
not assigned any meaning at all according to the LF-interpretation
scheme.  (What is the meaning of the VP “praise every boy”?)  I present
an intuitive, sequent-style notation for a directly compositional
reformulation of LF-interpretation, and show that the vanilla Heim and
Kratzer/Fox version hereof is in fact elegantly expressible in terms of
delimited continuations.  The interpretation of ‘tucking-in’
constructions, as exemplified by analyses of Parasitic Scope or
multiple-wh movement, can be given a uniform and straight forward (and
still variable free) treatment using the sequent-style notation.
Although the focus of the talk is on understanding our theories of
semantic interpretation, I will mention some of the attendant benefits
of compositionality in this setting, such as efficient and correct (1)
exact generation, (2) incremental interpretation in parsing, and (3)
ellipsis resolution in discourse.

Friday, November 18: Tamara Vardomskaya

Please join us this Friday as Tamara Vardomskaya from the Linguistics Department presents work on experiential predicates and illocutionary force.

Date and time: Friday, November 18, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Subjective find explained by experience and presentive force


This talk is a progress report on my work on the selection properties of the so-called “subjective-find”, used in phrases like “John finds this food delicious/this behavior weird/this explanation implausible” but not “?John finds these leaves green.” Since the work of Saebo (2009), many models of subjectivity have sought to explain what subjective-find is selecting for when it selects for subjective predicates. I argue that, contrary to a recent paper by Kennedy and Willer (2016) that invokes counterstance contingency to explain find and consider, the selection properties of find can be explained via two pragmatic concepts that are already well-known in the literature.
One is the presupposition of direct experience, already discussed by Stevenson (2007), Bylinina (2014), McNally and Stojanovic (2015) and Hirvonen (2014), among others. My work extends this explanation to embeddings of modal adjectives like “I find this plausible/impossible/likely”, which at first glance don’t seem to involve conventional experience and had not been discussed in previous literature.
The other is the notion of presentative illocutionary force, contrasted with assertative illocutionary force. Presentative force is used when a speaker wants to make other conversation participants aware that she commits to the truth of a certain proposition p, but refrains from asserting and thus moving to update the common ground with p, which would force others to either accept or reject the update. This was a distinction first proposed by Portner (2006) to explain Faller’s (2002) analysis of Quechua evidentials, and has since been used to analyze root indexical clauses in Plains Cree (Dechaine et al. 2014) and other discourse strategies. Most previous analyses of find and consider in English have not looked in detail at why it behaves as a presentative-force operator in discourse.
I argue that, given a cultural interpretation of the Gricean Maxim of Quantity to mean, “Make your contributions assertions if you can expect they would be accepted,” subjective predicates naturally overlap with those that both require direct experience to evaluate and those that a speaker would stay committed to even after they have been rejected from common ground update. I show that this does the work of counterstances and judge arguments, and additional mechanics are not necessary.

Friday, November 11: Thomas Grano

Please join us this Friday as Thomas Grano (Linguistics, Indiana University) presents work on intention reports.

Date and time: Friday, November 11, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: A progress report on intention reports


Unlike belief and desire reports, intention reports (e.g., “John intends to leave soon”) are not well studied in formal semantics. In this talk I report on my recent efforts to begin filling this gap, focusing on empirical similarities and differences that intention reports bear in relation to other attitude reports and to other expressions that involve intentional action. I show that these empirical properties follow from the view that an intention report “a intends p” denotes true iff “a” has a maximally ranked ACTION-RELEVANT or EFFECTIVE PREFERENCE (in the sense of Condoravdi and Lauer 2016) that “a” bears the RESPONSIBILITY relation (in the sense of Farkas 1988) to “p”. I close with some preliminary thoughts on how this study might inform a larger discussion about what kinds of meanings are and are not possible for natural language attitude predicates.

Condoravdi, Cleo, and Sven Lauer. 2016. Anankastic conditionals are just conditionals. Semantics & Pragmatics 9:1–61.
Farkas, Donka F. 1988. On obligatory control. Linguistics and Philosophy 11:27– 58.

A draft of the paper on which the talk is based can be found here:

The Logic of Intention Reports

Friday, November 4: Patrick Muñoz

Please join us this Friday as Patrick Muñoz from the Linguistics Department presents work on experience and assertion.

Date and time: Friday, November 4, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Experiential evidence and norms of assertion


Predications with experiential adjectives, whether evaluative (tasty) or not (salty), and with sensory verbs (taste), give rise to implications that the speaker has had the relevant experiential contact with the target of predication (e.g., tasting it). These implications resist the profile of conversational implicatures, being overtly indefeasible, and presuppositions, not projecting out of classic presupposition-holes, unlike similar experience implications that result from grammatical markers, like subjective attitude verbs (find the soup tasty) and experiencer PPs (tasty to me), which exhibit classic presuppositional behavior. Following recent work by Dilip Ninan, I cast these implications as the result of Moorean epistemic constraints on assertion. In particular, I appeal to von Fintel & Gilles’ recent account of epistemic modality, and their division of knowledge into (i) a privileged, directly known set of propositions determined by an epistemic ‘kernel,’ and (ii) the logical consequences of these, which include indirect knowledge. I propose an epistemic norm of assertion to the effect that speakers can only assert what is determined by this former privileged class. This, combined with a semantics for experiential verbs and adjectives that has them denote sensory qualities only knowable directly from the relevant sort of experience, explains why use of them commits the speaker to having had such experience unless an evidential marker of indirectness is used. It also explains via a Gricean Q-implicature why only the relevant sort of experience degrades indirectness markers (?the soup must be tasty, when one has already tasted the soup). I demonstrate that the revised norm of assertion makes independently desirable predictions, and that the sorts of lexical items that participate in these implications are just those that take experiencer PPs, giving us a new diagnostic for experiencer semantics.

Friday, October 14: Joshua Knobe

Please join us this Friday as Joshua Knobe (Philosophy/Cognitive Science, Yale) presents work on disagreement involving moral expressions.

Date and time: Friday, October 14, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Moral disagreement and moral semantics


When speakers utter conflicting moral sentences (“X is wrong”/“X is not wrong”), it seems clear that they disagree. It has often been suggested that the fact that the speakers disagree gives us evidence for a claim about the semantics of the sentences they are uttering. Specifically, it has been suggested that the existence of the disagreement gives us reason to infer that there must be an incompatibility between the contents of these sentences (i.e., that it has to be the case that at least one of them is incorrect). This inference then plays a key role in a now-standard argument against certain theories in moral semantics. In this paper, we introduce new evidence that bears on this debate. We show that there are moral conflict cases in which people are inclined to say both (a) that the two speakers disagree and (b) that it is not the case at least one of them must be saying something incorrect. We then explore how we might understand such disagreements. As a proof of concept, we sketch an account of the concept of disagreement and an independently motivated theory of moral semantics which, together, explain the possibility of such cases.

Friday, June 10: Nathan Klinedinst

Please join us this Friday as Nathan Klinedinst (Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London) presents work on coreference.

Date and time: Friday, June 10, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Coreference and identity (joint work with Daniel Rothschild)


Various mechanisms have been proposed to model cross-sentential semantic (anaphoric) dependence of pronouns on quantifiers, as in ‘Someone is on the phone. He sounds upset.’ We evaluate these in light of the behaviour of anaphoric pronouns in identity statements and those containing epistemic modals.

Friday, June 3: Yael Sharvit

Please join us this Friday as Yael Sharvit (Linguistics, UCLA) presents work on tense.

Date and time: Friday, June 3, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Some remarks on sequence of tense


The talk will compare semantic, syntactic and pragmatic accounts of SOT, arguing in favor of an account that is essentially syntactic. The argument relies on predictions regarding complex embeddings and typological variation.

Friday, May 27: Michela Ippolito

Please join us this Friday as Michela Ippolito (Linguistics, University of Toronto) presents work on epistemic modality.

Date and time: Friday, May 27, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Constraints on the embeddability of epistemic modals


In this talk I investigate the restrictions on the embeddability of epistemic modals under attitude verbs. Anand and Hacquard (2013), building on previous work, look at different classes of verbs and observe that some verbs (e.g. believe) embed both possibility and necessity epistemic modals, other verbs (e.g. want) don’t embed either, and others only seem to want to embed possibility epistemic modals.  I discuss their proposal (based on Yalcin (2010)’s work) and point our some difficulties with their account. I also look at the properties of those predicates that do embed epistemic modals and draw a connection with an apparently unrelated phenomenon that has been often claimed to have a relation to illocutionary force (e.g. Gartner 2002, Krifka 2014): embedded V-to-C clauses in German.

Friday, May 20: Tim Grinsell

Please join us this Friday as the Linguistics Department’s own Tim Grinsell presents work on degree semantics.

Date and time: Friday, May 20, 10:00 – 11:50 a.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Degrees of abstraction in degree abstraction


The Heim-Kennedy constraint says that DP quantifiers (like every) cannot take scope between degree quantifiers (like the comparative morphemes -er and less) and their traces.  I draw parallels between the behavior of quantificational DPs, modals, and connectives in both the matrix and than-clauses of comparatives like Elena is taller than Sonia to conclude that the HK constraint is a more general restriction on degree abstraction over universally quantified DPs.  The infelicity of this abstraction is explained by a choice-functional approach to the semantics of gradable adjectives.