Month: November 2019

Two talks of interest on 11/22: Pleitz, Polinsky

  • The Logic Colloquium on Friday, November 22, 1:30-3:00pm in the Humanities Institute, will feature Martin Pleitz, University of Münster, Germany. Title and abstract below.
  • The Linguistics Colloquim on Friday, November 22, 4:00-6:00pm in Oak 112, will feature Masha Polinsky, University of Maryland. Title and abstract below.

Martin Pleitz

A dynamic solution to the Liar Paradox

Abstract:The Liar paradox arises when we combine the assumption that a sentence can refer to itself with our naïve notion of truth and apply our unrevised logic. Most current approaches to the Liar paradox focus on revising our notion of truth and logic because nowadays almost everyone is convinced that there are self-referential sentences. I will argue against this conviction. My argument starts from observations about the metaphysics of expressions: A meaningful expression is based in a syntactic expression which in turn is based in a non-semiotic object, and these are pairwise distinct. As all objects of this three-fold ontology exist only relative to contexts, we can import ideas from tense logic about how existence and reference can interact in a contextualist metaphysics. Semantico-metaphysical reasoning then shows that in this dynamic setting, an object can be referred to only after it has started to exist. Hence the self-reference needed in the Liar paradox cannot occur, after all. As this solution is contextualist, it evades the expressibility problems of other proposals.

Masha Polinsky

Ellipsis in Heritage Language: Evidence of Structural Reorganization

Abstract: The study of multilingualism has long been the intellectual property of linguistics subfields like sociolinguistics and language acquisition, and with good reason: we must understand the complexities of the multilingual experience before we can analyze its exponence in language users. In this talk I present the reasons for appropriating multilingualism inquiries into core domains of core linguistic theory: they offer novel evidence on ways linguistic systems may be reorganized and undergo change. Taking this approach to multilingualism means that our research is no longer focused on the idiosyncrasies of bilingual/multilingual grammars, but also on the resources and pressures at play in the development, maintenance, and change of bilingual grammars. The two main sources of pressure for change in such grammars include processing constraints and grammatical reorganization. In this talk, I show that the bilingual speakers differ from the monolingual baseline in underlying representations, not in processing alone.
As a case in point, I will examine elliptical constructions in bilingual grammars. Ellipsis constructions are well known for having two readings: strict, and sloppy. For example, the sentence “The linguist blamed himself, and the logician did too”, is ambiguous between the strict reading (the linguist and the logician both blamed the linguist) and the sloppy reading (the logician blamed the logician, that is, himself). All factors being equal, English speakers show a strong preference for the sloppy reading in coordination contexts. Similar preference for sloppy readings is observed in a number of other languages (Dutch, German, Russian). While the sloppy-reading preference under ellipsis is strong in monolingual Russian, it disappears in Heritage Russian: the Russian language spoken by unbalanced bilinguals who are dominant in English (better known as heritage speakers of Russian). The disappearance of the sloppy reading is particularly surprising given that both Russian and English favor that reading. I show that the restructuring of Heritage Russian ellipsis follows from two changes in the heritage language: (a) reanalysis of the aspectual system and (b) changes in the inventory of null pronominals available to heritage speakers. As a result, what may appear to be unexpected change is actually well motivated by systematic restructuring in the heritage language. These results confirm that heritage speakers differ from the monolingual baseline in underlying representations, not in processing alone, and that syntactic reorganization can be predicted based on information about critical properties of heritage languages more generally and a particular heritage language.

Talk of interest on 11/08: Polly Jacobson

The Logic Colloquium on Friday, November 08, 1:30-3:00pm in the Humanities Institute, will feature Pauline Jacobsen, semanticist from Brown University. Title and abstract below.

Variable Free Semantics: Putting competition effects where they belong

This talk will have two parts. First I will discuss the approach to semantics making no use of variable names, indices, or assignment functions that I have advocated in a series of papers (see especially Jacobson, 1999, Linguistics and Philosophy and 2000, Natural Language Semantics, also exposited in Jacobson 2014 textbook Compositional Semantics, OUP).    There are a number of theoretical and empirical advantages to this approach, which will be just briefly reviewed. To mention the most obvious theoretical advantage: the standard use of variable names and indices in semantics requires meanings to be relativized to assignment functions (assignments of values to the variable names), adding a layer to the semantic machinery. This program eliminates this and treats all meanings as ‘healthy’ model theoretic objects (the meaning of a pronoun, for example, is simply the identity function on individuals, not a function from assignments to individuals).   I will then show a new empirical payoff, which concerns competition effects found in ellipsis constructions.  These competition effects have gone under the rubric of MaxElide in the linguistics literature.  One example centers on the contrast in (1) (on the reading where each candidates hope is about their own success):

(1) a. Harris is hoping that South Carolina will seal the nomination for her, and Warren is too.
(= ‘hoping that it will seal nomination for  her (Warren)’)
b. ?* Harris is hoping that South Carolina will seal the nomination for her, and Warren is also hoping that it will (=’seal the nomination for  her (Warren)’)

The ‘standard’ wisdom is there is a constraint in the grammar that when material is ‘missing’ (or, ‘elided’) if a bigger constituent can be elided, the bigger ellipsis is required. Why the grammar should contain such a constraint is a total mystery; moreover I and others have argued elsewhere that grammatical competition constraints represent a real complication in the grammar. When there are competition effects they should be located in speakers and hearers (we know that speakers and hearers do  compute alternatives – Gricean reasoning, for example, is based on that assumption).  Under the variable free account, the missing material in (1a) is of a different type than that in (1b).  In (1a), the listener need only supply the property ‘be an x such that x hopes that SC will seal nomination for x’ which is the meaning of the VP in the first clause.  In (1b) what must be supplied is the 2-place relation ‘seal the nomination for’ (note that this is in part because the pronoun her in the first clause is not a variable, and so [[seal the nomination for her]] is the function from an individual x to the property of sealing the nomination for x, which in turn is the two place relation named above.  The competition effect is thus about types not size, and can be given a plausible explanation in terms of communicative pressures.  Assuming that meanings of more complex types are more difficult to access than those of simpler types, there is a pressure for speakers to choose the simpler type ellipsis.  The type competition story crucially relies on the claim that expressions containing pronouns unbound within them denote functions from individuals to something rather than functions from assignment functions.