Two talks of interest on Friday, March 30: Scontras, Deal

This Friday, March 30, there will be two events of interest to Meaning Group members, both held in Oak 112 (titles and abstracts below):

2:30pm Greg Scontras
The pragmatics of truth-value judgments

Investigations of linguistic meaning crucially rely on truth-value judgments: whether a sentence can truthfully describe a given scenario. On the basis of such judgments, researchers have concluded that young children perform quite differently from adults when it comes to understanding ambiguous utterances with multiple potential meanings. For example, when adults hear “Every horse didn’t jump over the fence,” they entertain two interpretations: either none of the horses jumped or not all of the horses jumped. Children usually only endorse the “none” interpretation, rejecting the utterance in a scenario where only two out of three horses jumped. However, subtle changes to the truth-value judgment task setup make children more adult-like. I summarize key results from the literature on child ambiguity resolution, noting three core variables that affect children’s disambiguation behavior. One of these variables concerns children’s processing ability: how easy it is to access the different grammatical interpretations. The other two variables concern children’s ability to manage the pragmatic context: understanding what the topic of conversation is, and modulating expectations about the world being described. I also highlight the nature of the truth-value judgment task children are being asked to engage in, which I then formally articulate using a cognitive computational model that specifies the role of each of these three variables in providing truth-value judgments. The results suggest that pragmatic factors play a larger role than processing factors in explaining children’s non-adult-like ambiguity resolution behavior, and the computational modeling framework allows us to understand exactly why that’s so. Indeed, by modeling the task itself, we see that the truth-value judgment data typically used to demonstrate children’s difficulty with ambiguity in fact require no disambiguation at all — just the ability to manage the pragmatics of the task.

4:00pm Amy Rose Deal
Indexiphors: remarks on embedded indexicals, shifty agreement, and logophoricity

Is “shifty” first person agreement a reliable guide to the presence of a shifted first person indexical? Following Anand (2006) (as well as typological work such as Culy 1994), I will argue that it is not. Elements that may control what is canonically 1st person agreement include not only 1st person indexicals but also a class of elements I will call “indexiphors”. An indexiphor is like a logophor and unlike an indexical in that it must be bound by an operator in the left periphery of an embedded clause (Koopman & Sportiche 1989); this binding is subject to intervention constraints. At the same time, it is like an indexical, in particular like a first person indexical, in the agreement that it controls.

In principle, a description like the one just given could be the prologue to a theory of embedded indexicals like the one laid out by von Stechow (2003), according to which all apparent indexical shift in fact involves bound, non-indexical pronouns (subject to morphological feature deletion under binding). Working in this type of theory, one might claim that all supposed cases of “indexical shift” in fact feature indexiphors in the sense I have just defined. This is not the tack I will pursue. Rather, with Anand (2006), I will maintain that indexiphors and true shifted indexicals are both possible in natural language, and that the two show distinct empirical profiles.