Friday, January 12: Mingya Liu

Please join us this Friday as Mingya Liu (Cognitive Science, Osnabrück University) presents work on conditionals and speaker commitment.

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

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Speaker commitment of different dimensions: conditional connectives and polarity items


The meaning of conditionals and that of conditional connectives (CCs) such as English “if” has been long debated in the formal semantic literature. In the restrictor analysis, “if” does not have a distinctive conditional meaning on its own and if-clauses are used to restrict modal operators or generic frequency operators. This analysis of conditionals and CCs has inspired many insightful follow-up studies through which it becomes clear that the interpretation of conditional sentences is subject to a process of semantic and pragmatic modulation. What remains understudied, however, is the role of CCs in the modulation process. For example, CCs can contribute secondary – in recent terms, ‘non-at-issue’ – meanings concerning a ‘propositional attitude’ such as the speaker’s epistemic, deontic or emotional evaluation towards the antecedent. In my talk, I will focus on the two German CCs “wenn”/”falls” and argue that one of their essential contrasts can be modelled on a scale of epistemic commitment towards the antecedent, that is, ‘More committed <‘wenn’,‘falls’> Less committed’. I will report on several experiments for validating the analysis and also on the interaction between CCs and other expressions of speaker commitment, focusing on polarity items.

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