Friday, September 29: John Horty

Please join us this Friday as John Horty (Philosophy, University of Maryland) presents work on action and the semantics of modal statements.

Date and time: Friday, September 29, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Epistemic oughts in stit semantics


I begin by reviewing stit semantics, as well as an account of ought statements developed within that setting based on an ordering of action tokens. I then describe some problems that arise for this account when epistemic information is present, and propose one way of dealing with these problems by ordering action types, rather than tokens. This proposal provides further evidence, I hope, that the introduction of action types into stit semantics can be valuable.

A relevant paper can be found here: Action types in stit semantics

Monday, June 5: Julian Grove

Please join us this Monday as Julian Grove presents further work on presupposition (note the unusual day and place).

Date and time: Monday, June 5, 12:00 p.m. – 1:50 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Composing presuppositions 2


Since Stalnaker 1974, Heim 1983, and Karttunen 1974, satisfaction of presuppositions in a particular local context has been taken to be a prominent factor determining whether or not certain parts of discourse are felicitous. Consider the following ever-elusive data.
(1) Hi! Mary has a wetsuit! I hope Mary brings her wetsuit!    (Perfectly acceptable)
(2) I hope Mary brings her wetsuit! Hi! Mary has a wetsuit!    (Surprisingly unacceptable)
Recently, monads have been used in semantic theorizing to help explain certain grammatical relations between expressions that appear to display a left-to-right bias: this bias has been argued to appear in the domains of scope (Barker & Shan, 2014; Charlow, 2015), binding and anaphora (Charlow, 2015; Bumford, 2016), as well as others. As far as I know, monadic grammars have not been used to treat the left-to-right bias in the determination of contexts for presupposition-satisfaction, illustrated by data like (1) and (2). I therefore provide an update to the proof-theoretic account of presupposition failure presented earlier in the year that allows it to track discourse updates which my alter the local context, changing the content of presuppositions. Because of the left-to-right bias of the formalism, discourse-updates may only occur left-to-right. I then give the proof-theoretic account a model-theoretic interpretation using a variant of the State.Set monad introduced in Charlow 2015. This is work in progress, and feedback is much appreciated!

Friday, June 2: Carlos Cisneros

Please join us this Friday as Carlos Cisneros from the Linguistics Department presents work on compositional sources of anti-episodicity.

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

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Anti-episodicity as a general constraint on on even just


This presentation offers evidence that the string of focus-sensitive particles even just displays a restricted grammatical distribution while occurring as a nominal modifier.  The string seems to display anti-episodicity, or a ban on occurrence in episodic contexts, while its component lexical items, even and just, do not.  The presentation additionally shows that the particular style of anti-episodicity displayed by even just may be derivable from the composition of the individual meaning contributions of the component lexical items, in particular, scalar additive readings of even and rank-order readings of just.  Essentially, anti-episodicity is the result of contrary inferences that are generated by the string even just within a proposition.  The particle even generates a presupposed propositional alternative to an assertion that is exhaustified by just, thus creating contrary readings.  In order to avoid unacceptability, the particle just must be interpreted within the scope of an appropriate logical operator.  The distribution of even just corresponds greatly to the acceptable environments for free choice items crosslinguistically, such that this work expands the class of items known to display such behavior.

Friday, April 28: Jason Merchant

Please join us this Friday as Jason Merchant from the Linguistics Department presents work on Afrikaans negation.

Date and time: Friday, April 28, 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Modifying the colored lambda-calculus to model negative concord and the Afrikaans clause-final negator


Standard Afrikaans final nie seems to be a kind of polarity item that appears at the end of certain phrases, most prominently at the end of clauses containing sentential negation. There is a broad syntactic consensus that this final negative particle is a sentence-final element. Based on new attested data from coordination and scope, I argue against this consensus, and show that final nie in its usual clausal use is a VP-final element, not a clause-final one (or a clause-initial one, with a TP fronted past it). This distribution is most straightforwardly accounted for if final nie is a special clitic (not an affix) whose presence in the clausal structure is required by a licensing element, as in Zanuttini 1997, but whose set of licensers is puzzlingly diverse (including adverbs such as nouliks ‘barely’ and verbs like weier ‘refuse’, but not sonder ‘without’) in a pattern reminiscent of the thicket of elements sensitive to varieties of negativity found in the Hornian/Giannakidean pantheon. I follow Biberauer and Zeijlstra 2012 in analyzing final nie as a non-negative element; unlike them, however, I posit that nie’s distribution is due to its semantics: nie has the semantic effect of changing the predicate it occurs with into something that will be composable only if a negative element takes it as an argument (nie produces a negative isotope of its argument). I implement this analysis in a modified variant of the colored λ-calculus (Gardent et al 1998). Such an analysis, I show, is superior to Agree-based ones, and only it explains why nie appears at all. Standard Afrikaans is a double negative language, and my analysis extends to multiple negative words assuming a ‘lazy’ type-fitting system (Partee and Rooth 1983, Winter 2001). This analysis can also be extended to colloquial Afrikaans, which is a kind of negative concord language (Giannakidou 2000, 2006); in such uses, the negative quantifiers shift to their non-negative indefinite counterparts.

(Time permitting, I discuss implications of nie’s haplological behavior for our understanding of locality of allomorphic conditioning, arguing that the linear model of Arregi and Nevins 2012 is superior to ones requiring phase- or word-internality.)

Friday, April 21: Greg Kobele

Please join us this Friday as Greg Kobele from the Linguistics Department presents work on pronouns.

Date and time: Friday, April 21, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Semantic theories of pronouns, modularized


There are a number of different approaches to the semantics of pronouns, from the venerable ‘pronouns as variables (VAR)’ view, to the ‘pronouns as identity functions (ID)’ view popular in the literature on direct compositionality, as well as various incarnations of the ‘pronouns as definite descriptions (DEF)’ view.  All approaches share a common underlying logic, which can, following Philippe de Groote, be described in terms of how to systematically and conservatively extend a semantic analysis without pronouns to one incorporating them.  I’ll discuss how de Groote’s pioneering work on ‘montagovian dynamics’ decomposes into simple semantic modules dealing exclusively with pronouns on the one hand, and the logic of discourse relations on the other.  This not only allows us to understand the nature of context-sensitivity, and of discourse dynamics, but also gives us a way to begin to view semantics in terms, not of truth conditions, but of implementable algorithms for computing meaning.  I will explain the deep connection between the VAR and ID views, and will argue that we should reject them both.  Time permitting, I will explore what the move to an algorithmic semantics of pronouns means for sloppy and strict readings of pronouns in ellipsis.

Friday, April 14: Jeffrey King

Please join us this Friday as Jeff King (Philosophy, Rutgers University) presents work on context-sensitivty.

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

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Strong contextual felicity and felicitous underspecification


Consider the class of contextually sensitive expressions whose context independent meanings do not by themselves suffice to secure semantic values for those expressions in contexts.  Demonstratives and deictically used pronouns are the most obvious examples of such expressions.  But arguably gradable adjectives, modals, possessives, tense, quantifiers, expressions that take implicit arguments (‘ready’) and ‘only’ are examples as well.  I’ll call such expressions supplementives to highlight the fact that they need some sort of supplementation in contexts to acquire semantic values in those contexts.  The purpose of the present paper is to investigate two properties of at least some supplementives that prima facie seem to be in tension with one another.  On the one hand, in at least some cases in which a supplementive is used in context but there is insufficient information in the context for hearers to recover a unique semantic value for the expression, the result is infelicity.  On the other hand, in at least some cases a supplementive can be felicitously used in a case in which there is not enough information in the context to recover a unique semantic value for the expression.  I’ll argue that all supplementives have both kinds of uses; and I’ll suggest a way to reconcile the claims that supplementives possess each of these apparently conflicting properties.

Friday, March 3: Ryan Simonelli

Please join us this Friday as Ryan Simonelli from the Philosophy Department presents work on indexicals and opaque contexts.

Date and time: Friday, March 3, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209

Title: Indexicality, opacity, and perspectivality


In 1979, two seminal articles by John Perry and David Lewis, “The Problem of the Essential Indexical” (Perry 1979) and “Attitudes De Dicto and De Se” (Lewis 1979), articulated the notion of “essential indexically” and ushered in a revisionary way of thinking about the contents of intentional attitudes as centered on particular individuals that have them. In a recent monograph entitled The Inessential Indexical (Cappelen and Dever 2013), Herman Cappelen and Josh Dever argue that this tradition is predicated on a confusion. “Essential indexicality,” they argue, is simply an instance of the well-known philosophical phenomenon of opacity, the failure of substitutability of co-referential terms in certain intensional contexts. While they do not give an account of opacity, Cappelen and Dever take their claim about indexicality and opacity to support the conclusion that that perspectivality is not a “philosophically deep” phenomenon.  Here, I’ll provide an account of opacity, drawing from Robert Brandom (1994), which shows that Capppelen and Dever’s claim is correct, but the exact opposite conclusion is to be drawn. The problem with the essential indexical tradition, in positing distinctively perspectival contents, isn’t its failure to realize perspectivality is philosophically shallow, but its failure to realize how deep perspectivality actually is.

A paper in progress on the topic can be viewed here:

Friday, February 24: Rachel Rudolph

Please join us this Friday as Rachel Rudolph (Philosophy, UC Berkeley) presents work on perceptual reports.

Date and time: Friday, February 24, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Searching for the perceptual source


This will be an exploratory talk about the conditions under which perception reports place constraints on what the source of perception must be — that is, on what the speaker must have perceived for the report to be felicitous. Recognizing that some copy raising perception reports (e.g. ‘Tom seems like he’s cooking’) require perception of the subject (Tom), Asudeh and Toivonen (2012) give semantics for ‘seem’ (and ‘look’, ‘sound’, etc.) that has the subject in these sentences always being interpreted as the perceptual source. Others, like Landau (2011), have recognized this to be too strong. While Landau’s analysis avoids the overly general consequences of Asudeh and Toivonen’s, it still doesn’t answer the question of when the restriction on perceptual source shows up and when it doesn’t. I’ll go through a variety of cases to test some hypotheses about what gives rise to the restriction. I believe this exploration may also help shed light on the evidential role of perception reports.
Asudeh, A. and Toivonen, I. (2012). Copy raising and perception. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory. 30:321-380.
Landau, I. (2011). Predication vs. aboutness in copy raising. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory. 29:779-813.

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.