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.

Friday, April 29: Guillaume Thomas

Please join us this Friday as Guillaume Thomas (Linguistics, University of Toronto) presents work on modality.

Date and time: Friday, April 29, 10:00 – 11:50 a.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Modal Economy and the temporal orientation of circumstantial modals


Condoravdi (2002) observed that the perfect aspect cannot take scope below metaphysical modals and argued that this restriction is due to a constraint on the use of modal operators that she called the Diversity Condition (see also Giannakidou 1999). More recently, Abusch (2012) challenged Condoravdi’s analysis by identifying instances of circumstantial modals that are subject to the same scope restriction but that cannot be analyzed as metaphysical modals. Abusch argued from this observation that Condoravdi’s use of the Diversity Condition was incorrect. In this talk, I will argue that Abusch’s examples can actually be analyzed with the Diversity Condition, and I will attempt to explain why not all circumstantial modals are subject to this constraint. I will also argue that the Diversity Condition must be reduced to an economy condition that prohibits trivial uses of modal operators.

Friday, April 1: Sophia Sklaviadis

Please join us this Friday as Sophia Sklaviadis from the Philosophy Department presents work on linguistic subjectivity and faultless disagreement.

Date and time: Friday, Apri 1, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Exemplars of honesty (i.e. felicity): Can subjective ‘find’ discover?

or: Can naturalness of embedding under (subjective) ‘find’ predict scalar faultlessness?


Knobe & Khoo (2015) define an interesting relation of exclusionary content: “Two claims are exclusionary (or have exclusionary content) iff it has to be the case that at least one of them has to be false.” Equivalently, two claims are exclusionary iff they are contradictory but at most one is correct (or true). We can define the inverse of Knobe & Khoo’s (2015) exclusionary content as follows: Two claims are inclusionary (or have inclusionary content) iff it has to be the case that neither of them has to be false. Inclusion seems like a natural charterization of the relation obtaining between the contradictory assertions (as well as their expressed contents[1]) that give rise to faultless disagreement (FD), which is prominently licensed by predicates of personal taste (PPTs), e.g. ‘tasty’, ‘fun’, in their positive and comparative forms. [2] Far from being exhausted by PPTs, faultlessness is a pervasive phenomenon that can mediate communication: relative gradable predicates license FD in their positive forms (but block it in comparative constructions[3]); absolute gradable predicates are interesting intermediary cases. Besides gradable adjectives, a well-known class of examples of FD is licensed by epistemic modality effects.[4]

Studies on the cognitive psychology of intuitions about disagreements, suggest that inclusion (or faultlessness) is itself a gradable or scalar property.[5] At the same time, empirical work on the linguistic behavior of vague predicates (specifically relative gradable adjectives, including ‘tall’, ‘delicious’, ‘salty’, and ‘green’) suggests that (the class of) relative faultlessness of disagreements about vague predicates, depends on the (semantic) meaning of the particular disputed vague predicate.[6] I try to characterize two empirical measures, whose correlations, are (hopefully) meant to help understand the relation between (degree of) inclusion or faultlessness, and vagueness (in the sense of tolerance defined as: (i) giving rise to Sorites series, (ii) licensing borderline cases[7]): One measure will be the mean score of inclusion of disagreements about each of 41 predicates (modifying Knobe & Khoo’s (2015) empirical model). The second measure will be the relative difference in felicity (or naturalness or acceptability) of each of these predicates, embedded, respectively, in the nonfinite complement clauses of the two matrix verbs, ‘find’ and ‘consider’.[8] My basic hypothesis is that perceived subjectivity influences the degree to which people find it acceptable to embed an adjective under ‘find’. A first model will be a multiple regression of the judgments about felicity of each predicate under ‘find’, on both judgments about each predicate under ‘consider’, and judgments about FD for each predicate.[9] I also want to use (i) the ranked differences of the ‘find’ and ‘consider’ mean scores, and (ii) an ordering by fitted residuals of a fit between observed-‘find’ score and predicted-‘find’ score (predicted-‘find’ is estimated by linear regression on ‘find’ scores from ‘consider’ scores),[10] in order to see how well these orderings can predict the mean faultlessness scores.

[1] I want to follow Knobe & Khoo (2015) in remaining neutral on the usefulness of this kind of a distinction.

[2] Kölbel (2003); Lasersohn (2005); Kennedy (2013).

[3] Fleischer (2013) who develops a different explanation of this observation.

[4] vonFintel & Gilles (?); Willer (2013).

[5] Cohen & Nichols (2010); Knobe & Khoo (2015); Goodman, et al. (2016); Sarkissian, et al. (2011).

[6] Cohen & Nichols (2010); more recently (and somewhat more indirectly) Lassiter & Goodman (2014).

[7] Cf. Cobreros, Egre, vanRooij, Ripley (2012), (2015).

[8] The construction ‘find x pred’, contrasted with ‘consider’, and especially in English, has strong selection restrictions on the distribution of its (nonfinite) complement clauses: cf. Szaebo (2009); Kennedy (2013).

[9] The intuitive idea motivating this model is the following: The variance in felicity of ‘find’ judgments that is unrelated to subjectivity will be accounted for by the comparatively neutral embedding matrix ‘consider’; if this model works, the ‘find’ variance that is left over will be predicted by faultlessness judgments.

[10] This ordering represents ‘find’ being increasingly preferred to ‘consider’ when the same predicate is embedded in the respective complements. (This fitting is motivated by the assumption that ‘consider’ is neutral in the sense of not imposing (semantic) restrictions on its nonfinite complement clause.)

Friday, March 11: Aidan Gray

Please join us this Friday as Aidan Gray (Philosophy, University of Illinois at Chicago) presents work on proper names.

Date and time: Friday, March 11, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Names in strange places


Predicativism about names is the view that proper names have predicate-type semantic values. Historically, the central argument for predicativism has been that it is the simplest explanation of the fact that names can appear in predicative positions (e.g, in Two Alfreds and a Helen walk into a bar and Every Jeremy I know plays squash). In this paper I evaluate the prospects for this argument. In the first part of the paper, I canvas different possible deflationary strategies towards the data (i.e. strategies for explaining predicative interpretations of names without holding that names are lexical predicates). In the second part of the paper, I introduce an under-appreciated challenge for both predicativists and non-predicativists alike – explaining the discourse possibilities of singular unmodified definite descriptions containing names. I argue that non-predicativists have no very clear path to explaining the possibilities, and that predicativists only have a path by altering their conception of the discourse role of proper names.


Friday, February 26: Josef Stern

Please join us this Friday as Josef Stern from the Philosophy Department presents work on quotation.

Date and Time: Friday, February 26, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Quotations and pictures


Quotation (q-)marks are currently used for two main reasons: to quote someone’s utterance or inscription (e.g., “Trump said: ‘I will make America great!’”) and to mention words (e.g., “ ‘Love’ is a four letter word”).  Over the last 50 years there has been an explosion of work by philosophers and linguists on q-marks but almost all of it has focused on their use in mentioning, either ignoring quotation or assimilating it to mentioning.  In the first parts of this paper I sketch the disjoint histories of q-marks in the two practices to identify the explananda and show that the marks “ ‘‘’… ‘’’ ” are homonymous.  For the rest of the paper I concentrate almost entirely on the use of q-marks in quotation, present the semantic problems raised by quotation, and, drawing on three features of pictures, show how quotations can be best analyzed using these pictorial notions.  Time permitting, I will discuss the figurative use of q-marks: scare-quoting.

Friday, February 19: Kevin Davey

Please join us this Friday as Kevin Davey from the Philosophy Department presents work on semantic paradoxes.

Date and Time: Friday, February 19, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Truth, subderivations, and the Liar Sentence

Abstract: In this talk, I outline a new way of treating the Liar sentence and related semantic paradoxes. This treatment revolves around a study of the use of the truth predicate. I claim that in addition to its disquotational use, the truth predicate is also used to navigate movement between the various subderivations in a proof, and that once we modify classical logic to reflect this the Liar paradox can be defused.  The talk will be mostly non-technical and so should be accessible to a wide audience; the main technical results will be motivated and discussed but not proved.

Slides: You can find a draft of the slides for the talk attached here.

Davey Talk Slides

Friday, February 5: Tamara Vardomskaya

Please join us this Friday as Tamara Vardomskaya from the Linguistics Department presents work on linguistic subjectivity and verbs of attitude and perception.

Date and time: Friday, February 5, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Subjectivity and find: a matter of perception or attitude?


The problem of how to analyze the subjectivity of predicates such as deliciousweird, or annoying has led to much recent discussion and debate. Saebo 2009 has brought to attention one key indicator of subjective predicates: their embeddability in small clauses under so-called subjective attitude verbs, such as the English construction find NP XP (Subjective-Find):

(1) I found beer delicious/?vegetarian.

However, a mostly-unasked question is what makes this construction select for subjectivity — and whether that can shed light on what exactly subjectivity is. In this talk I discuss the properties of the Subjective-Find construction, and how it differs from the homophonous discover construction (I found him dead), the construction with a finite-clause complement (I found that beer is delicious/vegetarian), and the seemingly parallel construction with consider (I considered beer vegetarian). I consider both its pragmatic features and its syntactic and semantic features in depth using data from both English and Russian.
I consider two possible analyses — that Subjective-Find is a perception verb similar to see or hear, and that Subjective-Find is an attitude verb similar to know, believe, think or consider. I show that neither of those analyses in themselves covers all the properties of Subjective-Find, and I workshop initial steps towards a combined analysis that can capture the advantages of both approaches.

Friday, December 4: Patrick Munoz

Please join us this Friday as Patrick Munoz from the Linguistics Department presents work on subjectivity and disagreement.

Date and Time: Friday, December 4, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Faultless disagreement and the determination of contextual parameters


The phenomenon of faultless disagreement, in which two agents seem to have conflicting doxastic attitudes, or seem to make contradictory assertions, yet neither seems to commit a factual error, has been a springboard for recent relativistic approaches to semantics that involve evaluating propositional content with respect to judges or standards of taste. I argue that faultless disagreement is a general linguistic epiphenomenon that is expected to arise given an appropriately sophisticated standard Kaplanian semantics of context and truth-evaluation and Stalnakerian pragmatics of assertion, if we further assume, following Peter Lasersohn, that abstract semantic utterance contexts are distinct from, and not uniquely determined by, concrete speech situations, such that a single speech situation may be compatible with multiple semantic contexts. I provide a unified account of faultless disagreement as involving disagreement over the setting of contextual parameters with respect to which semantic content is created and evaluated, when said parameters are not uniquely determined by the concrete speech situation. This further predicts that faultless disagreement arises wherever contextual parameters can be undetermined, which involves a wide range of cases extending beyond those involving so-called predicates of personal taste.

Friday, November 20: Paolo Santorio

Please join us this Friday as Paolo Santorio (Philosophy, University of Leeds) presents work on conditionals.

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

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Alternatives and truth-makers in conditional semantics


Most contemporary theories of conditionals are descendants of Stanaker/Lewis/Kratzer’s comparative closeness analysis. I start by revisiting a classical problem for this analysis. Conditionals with disjunctive antecedents (“if p or q, r”) seem to entail the two conditionals whose antecedents are the individual disjuncts (“if p, r” and “if q, r”); yet comparative closeness semantics can’t vindicate this entailment. It is often assumed that the puzzle  can be accommodated via one of two local fixes: (a) a scalar implicature in the antecedent, or (b) a non-Boolean meaning for “or”. I show that none of these two strategies can work. The puzzle requires modifying comparative closeness semantics. I suggest an analysis on which conditionals are alternative-sensitive: their truth conditions are computed in part by manipulating syntactic alternatives to the antecedent. Crucially, the algorithm for manipulating alternatives is different from the so-called “innocent excludability” algorithm in use for scalar implicatures, and involves a new notion that I call “specificity”. The resulting semantics for conditionals is hyperintensional (it doesn’t vindicate substitution of necessarily equivalent propositions), but in a way that is different from, and much tamer than, other hyperintensional accounts.

Friday, November 13: Orest Xherija

Please join us this Friday as Orest Xherija from the Linguistics Department presents work on the semantics of temporal connectives.

Title: Before without after: nonveridicality, disjunction and context dependence

Date and time: Friday, November 13, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)


In this talk I will sketch a new, crosslinguistic semantics for the temporal connective before based on empirical observations from a number of languages. The semantics of before has been a longstanding problem in formal semantics and pragmatics due to the numerous properties that this connective seems to possess: (a) it allows for veridical, nonveridical and antiveridical readings of the before-headed clause (which reading we have depends (mostly) on context); (b) it licenses NPIs (in contrast to the alleged dual after); (c) it can license strong NPIs (Giannakidou 1998, for relevant examples from Modern Greek); (d) it seems to place an anti-PAST restriction on the verb of the before-headed clause (a fact that is observed in a number of diverse languages including Modern Greek, Albanian, Turkish and Japanese); (e) it appears to force a veridical reading when preceded by a measure phrase like three minutes. After showing that previous accounts (Ogihara 1995, Sánchez-Valencia et al. 1994, Condoravdi 2010, Krifka 2010 inter multa alia) have missed some of these empirical observations in attempting to formally characterize the semantics of before, I will sketch an account in which before is a function from contexts to meanings. This denotation aims to capture the numerous crosslinguistically robust properties of this connective with a uniform account that is language-independent. In sketching this account, I will provide evidence for the need of at least two lexical entries for before, to account for cases in which before is followed by a TP and cases in which it is followed by a DP, a fact that has not been addressed in any of the previous accounts.