Friday May 29: John MacKay

Please join us this Friday for a talk by John MacKay, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin.

Speaker: John MacKay (U. of Madison, Philosophy)
Title: Explaining the Actuality Operator Away
Date: Friday, May 29
Time: 12:30 am – 2:20 pm
Location: Rosenwald 208


I argue that “actually” does not have a reading in English where it is synonymous with the actuality operator of modal logic, and offer an alternative account of the term. After reviewing the reasons why actuality operators were introduced into formal languages, I argue that the interaction of “actually” with modality and tense reveals that it is not interpreted as such an operator. I advance an alternative account of “actually” and “actual” according to which they are presupposition triggers, along the lines of “even” or “too”. The presupposition they trigger has to do with the discourse evolving in non-standard fashion, with multiple information states being live candidates to be the context set.

Subjectivity in Language and Thought Conference

Here is the program for the Subjectivity in Language and Thought Conference:

Wednesday, April 22, Stuart 101

9:30 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.
Matt Mandelkern (MIT), “A Solution to Karttunen’s Problem.”

10:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Lilia Rissman (University of Chicago), “Intentionality and Modality in the Semantics of an Instrumental Verb.”

11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Coffee Break

11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford University), “What Makes Detachment Fail?”

12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Lunch Break

2:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
Igor Yanovich (Tübingen), “Multiple-Assertion Variable-Free Modal in Ukrainian.”

2:45 p.m – 3:30 p.m.
Jonathan Howell (Montclair State), “Decomposing Weak Necessity in English.”

3:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Coffee Break

4:00 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.
Tamara Vardomskaya (University of Chicago), “Presentation and Assertion in Subjective Predicates.”

4:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.
Alda Mari (IJN, CNRS/ENS/EHESS – Chicago), “Epistemic Attitudes, Consensus and Truth.”

You can view the website here.

Friday April 17: Andrea Beltrama

Please join us this Friday for a talk by Andrea Beltrama, PhD Candidate in Linguistics at the University of Chicago:

Speaker: Andrea Beltrama (Linguistics, PhD Candidate)
Title: Totally, unsettledness and questions under discussion: Exploring the pragmatic side of intensification
Date: Friday, April 17
Time: 12:30 am – 2:20 pm
Location: Rosenwald 208


Totally, unsettledness and questions under discussion. Exploring the pragmatic side of intensification. Intensification has received considerable attention in semantics. Yet, most authors mostly focused on cases of degree modification, where intensifiers operate over degree scales lexically encoded by their argument. Instead, little has been said about cases of purely pragmatic intensification, where intensifiers target scales recruited from non truth-conditional dimensions like commitment, certainty, expressivity, and as such operate outside the realm of regular at-issue semantic content. The current talk aims to take a step towards exploring this flavor of intensification by discussing the licensing and distribution of totally in American English in examples like the following.

(1) WTF Florida! Man in “I have drugs” shirt totally had drugs

(2) You should totally watch this movie.

(3) Dionne: There was a stop sign there!
Cher: I totally paused!

I argue that, in its usage as a pragmatic intensifier, totally operates as a device to resolve unsettledness surrounding the truth of a proposition. More specifically, by explicitly inviting the interlocutor to remove from the discourse model all worlds in which the proposition is false, totally intensifies the assertion itself, serving as device to close a question under discussion. Moreover, in contexts where no question under discussion is explicitly present, it can retroactively force the accommodation of one, while marking the proposition as conversationally relevant. I conclude by sketching out a possible way to bridge the connection between these cases and totally’s more canonic use as a degree modifier, suggesting that degree modification and pragmatic intensification are distinct flavors of the same underlying phenomenon.

Friday April 3: Brian Weatherson

Join us this Friday for a talk by Brian Weatherson (University of Michigan), who will be speaking about borderline cases:

SPEAKER: Brian Weatherson
TITLE: ‘Defending the Standard View of Borderline Cases’
DATE: Friday April 3
LOCATION: Rosenwald 208
TIME: 12:30 am – 2:20 pm


Many predicates, perhaps most of them, are vague. And most vague terms have, in some intuitive sense, borderline cases. There is a very common view about what it takes for something to be a borderline F: it is not determinately F, and it is not determinately not F. In her recent book, Diana Raffman has suggested a number of arguments against that standard view, and put forward an alternative. My main aim in this paper is to respond to those arguments, and defend the standard view.

This paper is part of a larger project that I’ll gesture at towards the end, and will happily talk about. The idea is to use a familiar kind of algebraic semantics to develop a theory that has the best features of some existing approaches, without their weaknesses. It’s relevant to the present talk because the theory does something Raffman says can’t be done: namely keep the standard view of borderline cases without qualifying classical logic.

Friday February 20: Patrick Munoz

Please join us this Friday for Patrick Munoz (PhD Student, Linguistics)!

SPEAKER: Patrick Munoz
TITLE: ‘Names in de re belief reports: problems with conceptual covers and a new analysis of identity’
DATE: Friday 2/20
LOCATION: Rosenwald 208
TIME: 11:30 am – 1:20 pm


Ambiguities between de dicto and de re interpretations of many belief reports are elegantly captured by analyzing the distinction as one of scope with respect to a doxastic modal operator. But many well-known paradoxes – among them the famous ‘double vision’ puzzles, such as those presented in Quine (1956) and Kripke (1979), in which the belief-holder is familiar with some individual under two distinct guises, and fails to recognize their identity – present problems for applying such an analysis to de re belief reports about individuals denoted by proper names. If proper names are taken to denote individuals without the mediation of any conceptual or non-trivial intensional content, then their being evaluated within, or beyond, the scope of a modal operator that shifts the world of evaluation is irrelevant to their semantic contribution. This has two unwelcome results: (1) de re belief attributions containing proper names collapse into their de dicto counterparts, making capturing the ambiguity impossible; and (2) it is impossible to capture the intuition that a belief-holder may simultaneously have, and not have, a certain de re belief about an individual in different respects without being ‘incoherent,’ i.e. without entertaining logically impossible doxastic alternatives.

This has led researchers to suggest that identifying individuals under quantification is impossible without reference to some conceptually mediating guise or other: the choice of guise then determines whether or not the de re belief holds. Aloni (2001) identifies problematic results in previous theories attempting to cash out this approach formally, and resolves them by proposing her theory of conceptual covers, according to which quantification occurs not over bare individuals, but over ‘ways of identifying’ those individuals. This is done by introducing the notion of a conceptual cover, which is a set of individual concepts such that relative to each possible world, exactly one individual falls beneath each concept, and each individual falls beneath exactly one concept; there is thus a one-to-one mapping between concepts and individuals, such that a conceptual cover can be seen as a certain way of uniquely and exhaustively partitioning the domain. Some conceptual cover or other is determined by the discourse context, and variables are in turn assigned to individual concepts that are members of this conceptual cover. While this explains the data with which Aloni is concerned, I argue that the way the theory is presented makes the prediction that relative to the use of any single conceptual cover, there are no de re belief attributions whose truth requires that two such individual concepts denote the same individual in the same world (otherwise, the uniqueness condition would be violated). But such belief attributions do exist, viz. those reporting de re beliefs about identity, which I argue can be interpreted ‘doubly de re,’ such that the expressions denoting both individuals being equated are evaluated outside the scope of the doxastic operator. Such attributions can be true, although on Aloni’s account this would require that the same individual be denoted by two individual concepts within a conceptual cover relative to the belief-holder’s doxastic alternatives, which is impossible.

The fact that the primary appeal for conceptual covers (the uniqueness condition) leads to this problematic result, in addition to the problems that previous attempts to treat quantification over individuals as mediated by conceptual content have engendered, leads me to adopt a new approach to analyzing de re belief reports containing proper names, according to which names are once again stripped of all conceptual content. I argue that the problem with such belief reports is not in our analysis of names at all, but rather in our analysis of identity: I show that such reports can be captured using the traditional scopal ambiguity analysis if the identity relation used to symbolize their logical forms is treated not as a matter of logical identity between members of a domain, but rather as a descriptive identity amounting to an indiscernability of identicals and an identity of indiscernables. This allows us not only to capture all of the data with which Aloni and her predecessors were concerned, but also belief reports about identity statements, and further allows us to drastically simplify the semantic and pragmatic mechanisms accompanying proper names.

The result of adopting this new approach to natural language identity has several important consequences, first among which is that the domain is now better conceptualized as a set of discourse referents rather than individuals. I argue that this is a positive result, and has promising applications for broader issues in the semantics of names, including a straightforward solution to Frege’s Puzzle and the dissolution of worries involving negative existential statements containing names. It thus points the way to a promising defense of a simple, Millian semantics of proper names.

Special Event with Peter Lasersohn

UPDATE: Time Change! The event is now taking place from 12:30-3:30 on 2/27, in the Logan Center Room 028.

On February 27, 12:30-3:30 pm, the L&P workshop and the Research Initiative on Subjectivity in Language and Thought (co-sponsored by Chris Kennedy and Malte Willer and funded by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society) will host a “Meet the Author” session with Peter Lasersohn (UIC), one of the leading contemporary thinkers on subjectivity. The session will be devoted to discussing his book manuscript “Subjectivity and Perspective in Truth-theoretic Semantics.” We will dive right into the discussion and so to benefit most from this session, participants are encouraged to look at the manuscript in advance, which is available upon request from Matt Teichman (teichman at uchicago dot edu). Since this work in progress, we ask that the manuscript not be cited or circulated.

On February 25, 3-6 pm, a session of Chris Kennedy’s winter seminar on Subjectivity (Rosenwald 208) will serve as a preparatory meeting in which some of the main ideas of the manuscript are explored in some detail. Those who are interested are welcome to join this session even if they are not regular attendants on the seminar (please email Chris Kennedy under ck at uchicago dot edu in advance so that we can make sure to have enough space).

Call For Papers: Submit your abstracts by 2/25!

CFP: Workshop on Modality and Subjectivity

The Dept. of Linguistics and the Workshop on Linguistics and Philosophy at the University of Chicago are organizing a one-day workshop on Modality and Subjectivity. We invite abstracts for 30-minute talks (plus 15 mins discussion) in any area related to the title topics— e.g. modal verbs, non-veridical moods (subjunctive, imperative), modal adverbs, the future, modality and temporality, including also papers on evidentiality, and the relation between modality and illocutionary force. We encourage submissions that involve various methodologies, including theoretical semantic, philosophical, as well experimental or corpus based submissions. The treatment of modal expressions in language is grounded in modal logic. Kratzer enriches the logical framework by introducing new parameters such modal bases and ordering sources. These enable a more refined interpretation of subtle distinctions such as epistemic, deontic, bouletic, and teleological modality (see Portner 2009). At the same time, ongoing crosslinguistic formal semantic work resulted in broadening the phenomena studied under modality and revealed considerable variation in the mapping between meanings and forms. As a result, modality has been connected to notions such as nonveridicality, evaluation and bias (Giannakidou and Mari 2013). There now seems to be consensus that by modalizing a sentence an individual anchor is, at a very fundamental level, commenting on the proposition, and this commenting often involves weakening the epistemic commitment of the anchor. This appears to characterize also evidential markers. Modality thus appears to involve subjective dimensions (what individuals anchors believe or know, what kind of evidence they have)—and this is the broad context that serves as the background for our workshop.

Cleo Condoravdi, Stanford University
Alda Mari, Institut Jean Nicod, ENS, CNRS

Abstract Guidelines:
1. Abstracts must be submitted in PDF format with filename PaperTitle.pdf (e.g., Prosodic_Form_and_Discourse_Function.pdf).
2. An abstract must be at most two pages in length (including data and references), on letter sized (8.5 by 11) or A4 page setting with one-inch margins, set in a font no smaller than 11 points. Intersperse data within the main text of the abstract, not on a separate page.
3. Abstracts must be anonymous. Author name(s) must not appear on the abstract or file name. Please include the name and author information in the email of submission.
4. Please submit your abstract by sending it to Matt Teichman:
5. All abstracts must be submitted by February 25 at 11:59 PM CST.
6. Submissions are limited to one individual and one joint abstract per author, or two joint abstracts per author.

Important Dates:
Submission deadline: February 25, 2015
Notification: March 1, 2015
Workshop date: April 22, 2015

For questions, please contact us at: teichman at uchicago dot edu
The organizing committee
Anastasia Giannakidou
Chris Kennedy
Matt Teichman
Malte Willer

Friday February 6: Tamara Vardomskaya

Join us this Friday as Tamara Vardomskaya (PhD Student, Linguistics) presents some of her work on predicates of personal taste!

SPEAKERS: Tamara Vardomskaya
TITLE: ‘Evidential Subjectivity’
DATE: Friday 2/6
LOCATION: Rosenwald 208
TIME: 11:30 am – 1:20 pm


Intuitively, subjective predicates (tasty, fun, smart) and evidentials (apparently, seems, presumably) have much in common. Both privilege the belief state of a particular individual, most commonly the speaker. Both are arguably related to epistemic modals (Stephenson 2007, MacFarlane 2014, Matthewson et al 2007, among many others). However, most investigations of subjectivity focus on languages like English where evidentials are optional, and most investigations of evidentiality do not look at subjective predicates. Thus, studies that touch on both subjectivity and evidentiality, such as (Krawczyk 2012, Bylinina 2014, Duchene et al 2014), are still infrequent.

In this workshop I will explore how a model of evidentiality and epistemic state can account for properties of subjectivity like faultless disagreement. I draw from MacFarlane’s (2014) model of assessment sensitivity; from analyses of faultless disagreement as metalinguistic negotiation, such as (Barker 2012); and from models of evidence for evidentials (McCready 2010, McCready and Ogata 2007, Krawczyk 2012).

Based on this, I argue that different speakers act based on different sets of evidence for the felicity/sincerity of subjective predicates. Thus, subjective predicates should be discussed in terms of sincerity conditions rather than truth conditions, as argued by Faller (2002), Murray (2010), and many others for evidential constructions as illocutionary acts. A more general theory of subjective predicates and evidentials can explain some interesting phenomena, such as the widespread faultless disagreement available in evidential-rich Cree (Duchene et al 2014).

This is preliminary research, and constructive criticism is welcome and encouraged.