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.

Friday, December 8: Klaus von Heusinger

Please join us this Friday as Klaus von Heusinger (Linguistics, University of Cologne) presents work on definiteness and indefiniteness.

Date and time: Friday, December 8, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: The comprehension of definite and indefinite noun phrases – towards a dual-process activation model


In this presentation, I argue that the comprehension of definite and indefinite noun phrases is best described within a dual-process model of referent activation. In a first process, a comprehender accesses the concept associated with the noun phrase’s descriptive material while, in a second process, the function of the noun phrase’s article guides the comprehender to select the denoted referent(s). Importantly, definite articles signal that there is a unique element that falls under the previously activated concept. In contrast, indefinite articles signal that there are (potentially) multiple referents for the previously activated concept. The dual-process model proposed here was tested in a visual-world eye-tracking experiment, where the different functions associated with definite and indefinite noun phrases are reflected at the level of a referent’s accessibility to a comprehender.

Friday, December 1: Ryan Simonelli

Please join us this Friday as Ryan Simonelli from the Philosophy Department presents work on the nature of propositions.

Date and time: Friday, December 1, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Propositions and the power to represent


The standard conception of propositions holds that propositions are the basic bearers of truth and falsity, and they bear these properties in virtue of representing things as being certain ways.  On the standard conception, a simple proposition is true if and only if thing that the proposition is about is the way that the proposition represents it as being.  In this talk, I argue that this standard conception of propositions precludes us from being able to explain how it is that a proposition represents as it does.  While some theorists, such as Trenton Merricks (2015) have embraced this consequence of the standard conception of propositions, I argue that it gives us ground to reject the standard conception and instead follow Peter Hanks (2011, 2015) and Scott Soames (2014, 2015) in adopting an act-based conception of propositions, one in which propositions are not the basic representers, but the basic types of representings.  On the act-based conception, propositions do not possess the power to represent, but rather, are the types of acts that we are able to perform in virtue of possessing this power ourselves.  After showing how the act-based conception of propositions resolves the problem of explaining propositional representationality that plagues the standard conception, I conclude by spelling out how we can think about the basic machinery of compositional semantics from an act-based perspective.

Friday, November 10: Matt Moss

Please join us this Friday as Matt Moss (Philosophy, New York University) presents work on proper names.

Date and time: Friday, November 10, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Covarying names


Predicativism about proper names predicts that a given name can vary in what individual it stands for across times or possible worlds — that names are not, as a matter of their semantic type, rigid. This follows from its treatment of bare singular occurrences of names as definite descriptions, where a given name “N” is analyzed as the x s.t. x bears-“N”. This in turn conflicts with broad consensus that names are rigid generally, and are so in virtue of their semantic type. Some predicativists (Elbourne 2005, Matushansky 2008) modify the view to make names rigid generally, but do so in a way that is methodologically problematic (Schoubye forthcoming). I consider these methodological problems prima facie reason for predicativists to reject the consensus about name rigidity. To do so, the predicativist needs good counterexamples — felicitous non-rigid occurrences of names — and an argument that predicativism best explains them.

Here I focus on examples where bare singulars receive a “covarying” or “relativized” reading (Gray 2012, Fara 2015). This is a reading where the bare singular does not pick out some one satisfier, but different satisfiers depending on the world or time of evaluation. The reading becomes available when it is presupposed that at most one individual satisfies a given bare singular at any point of evaluation — that is, when the bare singular acts as a role-type description in the sense of Rothschild 2007. I explain why we should predict bare singulars only get the non-rigid reading in peculiar contexts, and give cases where rigid and non-rigid readings are both available in the same context. I then survey a range of outstanding worries about this picture and its dialectical strength, and conclude by considering data that speak against classing names with descriptions, but rather with pronouns and “some”-indefinites (Coppock and Beaver 2015).References:

Coppock, Elizabeth and Beaver, David. 2015. “Definiteness and determinacy.” Linguistics and Philosophy 38 (5): 377-435

Elbourne, Paul. 2005. Situations and Individuals. MIT Press.
Gray, Aidan. 2012. Names and Name-bearing: An Essay on the Predicate View of Names. PhD dissertation, University of Chicago.

Matushansky, Ora. 2008. “On the Linguistic Complexity of Proper Names.” Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (5): 573–627.
Rothschild, Daniel. 2007. “Presuppositions and Scope.” Journal of Philosophy 104 (2):71–106.
Schoubye, Anders. Forthcoming. “The Predicative Predicament.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.

Friday, October 27: Tamara Vardomskaya

Please join us this Friday as Tamara Vardomskaya from the Linguistics Department presents work on the sources of linguistic subjectivity.

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

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Sources of subjectivity


Subjective expressions pose a problem for truth-conditional models of meaning: what does truth mean when expressions such as “Avocados are delicious” can be false for one speaker and true for another? A spate of recent linguistic and philosophical literature starting with (Lasersohn 2005) has offered various solutions to the problem, but most of them did not define what subjective expressions are, identifying them ad-hoc, “We know one when we see one.” This would predict that expressions are either subjective or not, but that is not actually the case – there are contexts where seemingly-subjective expressions are objective, and vice versa.
This talk, based on my dissertation research, uses findings from psychophysics and aesthetic research to offer a predictive model for when expressions are subjective. I argue that for an expression to be subjective, the perceptions and/or the categories that form its evidential basis must vary among speakers. For example, smells and tastes vary because people with different genes have differing smell receptors, while an expert would classify the features she sees in an artwork according to different criteria than an amateur would, but similarly to another expert.
I show how this model explains contextual shifts in subjectivity and provides clarity to other models, from expressivism to Lasersohn’s judge-index relativism to Kennedy and Willer’s counterstance contingency (2017). Subjective expressions reflect differences in how language maps to reality, but also reflect differences in how speakers can perceive reality itself, and thus play an important role in establishing norms of consensus and collaboration.

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.