Friday, November 18: Tamara Vardomskaya

Please join us this Friday as Tamara Vardomskaya from the Linguistics Department presents work on experiential predicates and illocutionary force.

Date and time: Friday, November 18, 11:00 a.m. – 12:50 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Subjective find explained by experience and presentive force


This talk is a progress report on my work on the selection properties of the so-called “subjective-find”, used in phrases like “John finds this food delicious/this behavior weird/this explanation implausible” but not “?John finds these leaves green.” Since the work of Saebo (2009), many models of subjectivity have sought to explain what subjective-find is selecting for when it selects for subjective predicates. I argue that, contrary to a recent paper by Kennedy and Willer (2016) that invokes counterstance contingency to explain find and consider, the selection properties of find can be explained via two pragmatic concepts that are already well-known in the literature.
One is the presupposition of direct experience, already discussed by Stevenson (2007), Bylinina (2014), McNally and Stojanovic (2015) and Hirvonen (2014), among others. My work extends this explanation to embeddings of modal adjectives like “I find this plausible/impossible/likely”, which at first glance don’t seem to involve conventional experience and had not been discussed in previous literature.
The other is the notion of presentative illocutionary force, contrasted with assertative illocutionary force. Presentative force is used when a speaker wants to make other conversation participants aware that she commits to the truth of a certain proposition p, but refrains from asserting and thus moving to update the common ground with p, which would force others to either accept or reject the update. This was a distinction first proposed by Portner (2006) to explain Faller’s (2002) analysis of Quechua evidentials, and has since been used to analyze root indexical clauses in Plains Cree (Dechaine et al. 2014) and other discourse strategies. Most previous analyses of find and consider in English have not looked in detail at why it behaves as a presentative-force operator in discourse.
I argue that, given a cultural interpretation of the Gricean Maxim of Quantity to mean, “Make your contributions assertions if you can expect they would be accepted,” subjective predicates naturally overlap with those that both require direct experience to evaluate and those that a speaker would stay committed to even after they have been rejected from common ground update. I show that this does the work of counterstances and judge arguments, and additional mechanics are not necessary.

Friday, November 11: Thomas Grano

Please join us this Friday as Thomas Grano (Linguistics, Indiana University) presents work on intention reports.

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

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: A progress report on intention reports


Unlike belief and desire reports, intention reports (e.g., “John intends to leave soon”) are not well studied in formal semantics. In this talk I report on my recent efforts to begin filling this gap, focusing on empirical similarities and differences that intention reports bear in relation to other attitude reports and to other expressions that involve intentional action. I show that these empirical properties follow from the view that an intention report “a intends p” denotes true iff “a” has a maximally ranked ACTION-RELEVANT or EFFECTIVE PREFERENCE (in the sense of Condoravdi and Lauer 2016) that “a” bears the RESPONSIBILITY relation (in the sense of Farkas 1988) to “p”. I close with some preliminary thoughts on how this study might inform a larger discussion about what kinds of meanings are and are not possible for natural language attitude predicates.

Condoravdi, Cleo, and Sven Lauer. 2016. Anankastic conditionals are just conditionals. Semantics & Pragmatics 9:1–61.
Farkas, Donka F. 1988. On obligatory control. Linguistics and Philosophy 11:27– 58.

A draft of the paper on which the talk is based can be found here:

The Logic of Intention Reports

Friday, November 4: Patrick Muñoz

Please join us this Friday as Patrick Muñoz from the Linguistics Department presents work on experience and assertion.

Date and time: Friday, November 4, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Stuart 209 (Philosophy seminar room)

Title: Experiential evidence and norms of assertion


Predications with experiential adjectives, whether evaluative (tasty) or not (salty), and with sensory verbs (taste), give rise to implications that the speaker has had the relevant experiential contact with the target of predication (e.g., tasting it). These implications resist the profile of conversational implicatures, being overtly indefeasible, and presuppositions, not projecting out of classic presupposition-holes, unlike similar experience implications that result from grammatical markers, like subjective attitude verbs (find the soup tasty) and experiencer PPs (tasty to me), which exhibit classic presuppositional behavior. Following recent work by Dilip Ninan, I cast these implications as the result of Moorean epistemic constraints on assertion. In particular, I appeal to von Fintel & Gilles’ recent account of epistemic modality, and their division of knowledge into (i) a privileged, directly known set of propositions determined by an epistemic ‘kernel,’ and (ii) the logical consequences of these, which include indirect knowledge. I propose an epistemic norm of assertion to the effect that speakers can only assert what is determined by this former privileged class. This, combined with a semantics for experiential verbs and adjectives that has them denote sensory qualities only knowable directly from the relevant sort of experience, explains why use of them commits the speaker to having had such experience unless an evidential marker of indirectness is used. It also explains via a Gricean Q-implicature why only the relevant sort of experience degrades indirectness markers (?the soup must be tasty, when one has already tasted the soup). I demonstrate that the revised norm of assertion makes independently desirable predictions, and that the sorts of lexical items that participate in these implications are just those that take experiencer PPs, giving us a new diagnostic for experiencer semantics.

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.)