The Linguistics Colloquium on Friday, September 29, at 4pm in Oak Hall 108, will feature Veneeta Dayal, semanticist from Rutgers.
This is one of a series of meetings dedicated to the study of the classic dissertation “Studies on the semantics of questions and the pragmatics of answers” by Jeroen Groenendijk and Martin Stokhof (University of Amsterdam, 1984). Details to be announced.
The Logic Colloquium on Friday, September 22, at 4pm in Oak Hall 112, will feature Jessica Rett, semanticist from UCLA.
The semantics of degree constructions has motivated the implementation of a MAX operator, a function from a set of degrees to its maximal member (von Stechow 1985, Rullmann 1995, a.o.). This operator is unsatisfying: it’s arbitrary (cf. MIN), and therefore not explanatory. There have thus been several calls to reduce MAX to a more pragmatic principle of maximal informativity (Dayal 1996, Beck & Rullmann 1999, Fox & Hackl 2007, von Fintel et al. 2014).
Intriguing differences between before and after have caused some to posit an EARLIEST operator in the temporal domain (Beaver & Condoravdi 2003, Condoravdi 2010). This operator is unsatisfying for similar reasons (cf. LATEST), and some have suggested it, too, can be redefined in terms of informativity (Rett 2015). However, recent cross-linguistic evidence (reported here) complicates the reduction of EARLIEST to `maximize informativity’: while counterparts of `before’ and `after’ across languages share many foundational semantic properties, they appear to differ in a principled way in how certain before constructions are interpreted. I discuss this and other related observations with respect to the future of a domain-general `maximize informativity’ program.
Join us for a Logic Colloquium by our own Jos Tellings on Friday, September 8, at 2pm in Laurel Hall 108.
Counterfactuality and causal structure
The following is an example of a counterfactual conditional in English:
(1) If I had thrown a six, I would have won the game.
One normally infers from (1) that the antecedent is counterfactual (i.e. I did not throw a six; I write this as CF-p), and that the consequent is counterfactual (i.e. I did not win the game; written CF-q). Whereas most previous literature focuses on the counterfactuality of the antecedent exclusively (perhaps assuming that an analysis of CF-p extends to CF-q), this work provides an analysis for how the counterfactual inference of the consequent (CF-q) is generated, and explains its empirical distribution.
I identify several contexts in which the CF-q inference gets cancelled. In some of these, cancellation is the result of the presence of a specific lexical item (such as “also”). In other cases, it is the intonation contour of the conditional that leads to cancellation. By analyzing the topic-focus structure of conditionals, I argue that the various contexts in which CF-q gets cancelled have a pragmatic property in common: they are multiple cause contexts. This means that they make more than one cause for the same consequent salient.
The next step in my analysis is adopting an idea going back to Karttunen (1971), who suggests that conditional perfection (the pragmatic strengthening of conditionals to biconditionals) is a necessary ingredient for the CF-q inference to arise. The key prediction, which has not been explored before, is that if for some reason conditional perfection is not triggered, the CF-q inference is not drawn. I derive the independent result that multiple cause contexts do not trigger conditional perfection. This provides the desired explanation of why in multiple cause contexts the CF-q inference is not drawn. This analysis opens a new way to investigate counterfactuality, namely by using tools from the study of discourse (questions and answers, topic and focus, exhaustivity). Finally, I sketch some directions of future work on how using causal networks to represent multiple causation can be applied to the pragmatics of counterfactual conditionals.
Hiroaki Saito and Adrian Stegovec will be presenting their work on “The pa/wa of imperative alternatives,” a talk to be presented at Sinn und Bedeutung in Potsdam, Germany. The abstract of the conference talk is attached.