Author: Stefan Kaufmann

Talk of interest on 11/13: Sandra Villata (UConn)

The Logic Colloquium will feature Sandra Villata (UConn Departments of Linguistics and Psychological Science) on Friday, 11/13, at 11am (online).

Intermediate grammaticality

Formal theories of grammar and traditional sentence processing models start from the assumption that the grammar is a system of rules. In such a system, only binary outcomes are generated: a sentence is well-formed if it follows the rules of the grammar and ill-formed otherwise. This dichotomous grammatical system faces a critical challenge, namely accounting for the intermediate/gradient modulations observable in experimental measures (e.g., sentences receive gradient acceptability judgments, speakers report a gradient ability to comprehend sentences that deviate from idealized grammatical forms, and various online sentence processing measures yield gradient effects). This challenge is traditionally met by accounting for gradient effects in terms of extra-grammatical factors (e.g., working memory limitations, reanalysis, semantics), which intervene after the syntactic module generates its output. As a test case, in this talk I will focus on a specific kind of violation that is at the core of the linguistic investigation: islands, a family of encapsulated syntactic domains that seem to prohibit the establishment of syntactic dependencies inside of them (Ross 1967). Islands are interesting because, although most linguistic theories treat them as fully ungrammatical and uninterpretable, I will present experimental evidence revealing gradient patterns of acceptability and evidence that some island violations are interpretable. To account for these gradient data, in this talk I explore the consequences of assuming a more flexible rule-based system, where sentential elements can be coerced, under specific circumstances, to play a role that does not fully fit them. In this system, unlike traditional ones, structure formation is forced even under sub-optimal circumstances, which generates semi-grammatical structures in a continuous grammar.

Please contact Marcus Rossberg for log-in information.

Meeting on 10/16: Ahmad Jabbar

The Meaning Group will meet online on Friday, October 16, 3-4pm. Our own Ahmad Jabbar will present his work on

Knowledge-wh and Intermediate Exhaustivity

In this paper, I consider a puzzle about knowledge-wh ascriptions. While (i) intermediate exhaustive (IE) readings for third person knowledge-wh ascriptions exist (Cremers and Chemla (2016)), (ii) they don’t for first person ones (as first noted by Groenendijk and Stokhof (1984)). (i) requires for a theory of question embedding to be able to derive IE readings, and (ii) requires this derivation to be somehow blocked for first person ascriptions. In this paper, I argue against the approaches in the literature, and some possible ones, to solve this puzzle. I conclude that (i) and (ii) cannot be explained by invoking an ambiguity for ‘know’ as in Theiler et al. (2018). Finally, I propose a solution to the puzzle: a relativist semantics for ‘know’ using MacFarlane’s assessment-sensitive framework (2014). [[know]] is construed as a function that takes, inter alia, an information state provided by the context of assessment. The variation in (i) and (ii) is then attributed to the variation in the information state of the agent of the context of assessment. This solution is promising in that not only does this semantics explain the puzzle, it handles much more intricate knowledge-wh ascriptions data. I round off my discussion by considering some objections against my proposal, and considering the possibility of tweaking my semantics to make it trivalent.

Meeting on 09/25: Arregui and Biezma 2016

The Meaning Group will meet on Friday, September 25, 2020, 3-4pm. Teru Mizuno will be leading the discussion on the paper “Discourse Rationality and the Counterfactuality Implicature in Backtracking Conditionals” by Ana Arregui and María Biezma (in Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 20, pages 91-108).

The meeting will be held online via video conference. Details are given in the email announcement and can be obtained by contacting the organizers.

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.

Talk of interest on 11/01: Chris Kennedy

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The UConn Logic Group‘s Scholar of Consequence this year is Chris Kennedy, semanticist from the University of Chicago. He will be speaking on Friday, November 01, 1:30-3:00pm, in BUSN 127 (that’s in the Business School – note the unusual location). Title and abstract below.

Expressing experience: Not necessarily ‘stoned’, but ‘beautiful’

It has been frequently observed in the literature that assertions of sentences containing predicates of personal taste like ‘tasty’ and ‘fun’ give rise to an acquaintance inference that is not present in assertions of sentences containing non-subjective predicates. An utterance of “sea urchin is tasty,” for example, implies that the speaker has first-hand experience of the taste of sea urchin, but an utterance of “sea urchin is orange” does not imply first-hand experience of the color of sea urchin. The goal of this talk is to develop and defend a broadly expressivist account of this phenomenon: acquaintance inferences arise because plain sentences containing subjective predicates are designed to express distinguished kinds of mental states, which differ from beliefs in that they can only be acquired by undergoing certain experiences. The resulting framework accounts for a range of data surrounding acquaintance inferences, as well as for striking parallels between acquaintance inferences in subjective predication and the kind of considerations that have fueled motivational internalism about the language of morals.