Friday, October 14: Joshua Knobe

Please join us this Friday as Joshua Knobe (Philosophy/Cognitive Science, Yale) presents work on disagreement involving moral expressions.

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

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Moral disagreement and moral semantics


When speakers utter conflicting moral sentences (“X is wrong”/“X is not wrong”), it seems clear that they disagree. It has often been suggested that the fact that the speakers disagree gives us evidence for a claim about the semantics of the sentences they are uttering. Specifically, it has been suggested that the existence of the disagreement gives us reason to infer that there must be an incompatibility between the contents of these sentences (i.e., that it has to be the case that at least one of them is incorrect). This inference then plays a key role in a now-standard argument against certain theories in moral semantics. In this paper, we introduce new evidence that bears on this debate. We show that there are moral conflict cases in which people are inclined to say both (a) that the two speakers disagree and (b) that it is not the case at least one of them must be saying something incorrect. We then explore how we might understand such disagreements. As a proof of concept, we sketch an account of the concept of disagreement and an independently motivated theory of moral semantics which, together, explain the possibility of such cases.

Friday, June 10: Nathan Klinedinst

Please join us this Friday as Nathan Klinedinst (Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London) presents work on coreference.

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

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Coreference and identity (joint work with Daniel Rothschild)


Various mechanisms have been proposed to model cross-sentential semantic (anaphoric) dependence of pronouns on quantifiers, as in ‘Someone is on the phone. He sounds upset.’ We evaluate these in light of the behaviour of anaphoric pronouns in identity statements and those containing epistemic modals.

Friday, June 3: Yael Sharvit

Please join us this Friday as Yael Sharvit (Linguistics, UCLA) presents work on tense.

Date and time: Friday, June 3, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Some remarks on sequence of tense


The talk will compare semantic, syntactic and pragmatic accounts of SOT, arguing in favor of an account that is essentially syntactic. The argument relies on predictions regarding complex embeddings and typological variation.

Friday, May 27: Michela Ippolito

Please join us this Friday as Michela Ippolito (Linguistics, University of Toronto) presents work on epistemic modality.

Date and time: Friday, May 27, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Constraints on the embeddability of epistemic modals


In this talk I investigate the restrictions on the embeddability of epistemic modals under attitude verbs. Anand and Hacquard (2013), building on previous work, look at different classes of verbs and observe that some verbs (e.g. believe) embed both possibility and necessity epistemic modals, other verbs (e.g. want) don’t embed either, and others only seem to want to embed possibility epistemic modals.  I discuss their proposal (based on Yalcin (2010)’s work) and point our some difficulties with their account. I also look at the properties of those predicates that do embed epistemic modals and draw a connection with an apparently unrelated phenomenon that has been often claimed to have a relation to illocutionary force (e.g. Gartner 2002, Krifka 2014): embedded V-to-C clauses in German.

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