Semantics and Pragmatics Exchange (SemPrE)


Univ.-Prof. Dr. Hana Filip, PhD

Lehrstuhl Semantik, Institut für Sprache und Information


Wednesday, 12:30 -2 pm

Building 24.53, Room 01.81


July 7, 2021


12:30 – 2 pm, online via Webex



Julie Hunter



Relations and Structure in Discourse Interpretation


In this talk we consider a variety of ways that the semantic relations that we infer between propositional level contents—and the often complex structures to which they contribute—can influence semantic interpretation. In particular, we show how recent work on discourse relations and structure has been used to model phenomena along the semantics-pragmatics interface, to analyze multimodal discourse, and to provide an account of discourse goals and the interaction of bias and discourse interpretation.


June 16, 2021


17:00-18:30, online via Webex


Andrea Beltrama

University of Pennsylvania


Imprecision and speaker identity: How social meaning affects pragmatic reasoning


Recent work at the interface of semantics and sociolinguistics proposed that the linguistic signaling and uptake of social identity traits can be captured via models similar to those used to formalize pragmatic inferences (Acton 2019; Burnett 2019; Henderson and McCready 2020) and non-at-issue content (Smith et al. 2010); and provided empirical evidence that listeners reason about the semantic/pragmatic properties of linguistic utterances to draw social inferences about the speaker (Beltrama 2018; Jeong 2018). These findings raise the question of whether reverse effects exist as well, i.e., whether (and how) social meanings can also impact the interpretation of semantic/ pragmatic meanings. We provide experimental evidence that (i) numerals receive stricter interpretations when uttered by Nerdy (vs. Chill) speakers; and that (ii) this effect is stronger for comprehenders who don’t (strongly) identify with the speaker, suggesting that pragmatic reasoning is crucially shaped by social information about both the speaker and the comprehender. Taken together, these findings suggest that social meanings are more intricately intertwined with pragmatic reasoning than previously thought: not only is the signaling and uptake of social meanings amenable to being formalized through the same reasoning patterns that can be applied to pragmatic inferences; but social meanings are also recruited by comprehenders to resolve the indeterminacy surrounding the interpretation of semantic meanings. The emerging picture is one in which different layers of meanings inform one other in a bi-directional fashion, highlighting the importance of integrating the study of social content into theoretical and experimental semantics and pragmatics.


June 9, 2021


12:30-14:00, online via Webex


Moshe E. Bar-Lev

Language, Logic & Cognition Center (LLCC)

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Obligatory implicatures and the relevance of contradictions


Magri (2009, 2011) proposed a theory of some cases of oddness based on an obligatory calculation of implicatures. While conceptually motivated, his theory has been shown to have limited empirical coverage. Alternative proposals improved on the empirical side, but lacked conceptual motivation. The goal of this talk is to explore a modification of Magri's view which preserves the conceptual motivation while achieving wider empirical coverage. On this view oddness comes about due to a conspiracy of two assumptions: (i) in the computation of implicatures, alternatives cannot be ignored if their presence leads to a relevant meaning (BarLev 2018); (ii) contradictions are relevant (following Lewis 1988).



May 12, 2021


12:30-14:00, online via Webex


Ashwini Deo

The Ohio State University


A strong question: Unifying exclusivity, mirativity, precisification, and intensification in

Marathi =c


Several Indo-Aryan languages, including Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, and Marathi contain a discourse clitic whose uses overlap with those of English discourse adverbials like the exclusives only/just, intensifiers really/absolutely/totally, precisifiers right/exactly, expectation confirmers indeed/that very/exactly, and scalar additive even, without corresponding perfectly to any of them. I offer a unified analysis of the varied and seemingly disparate uses of this expression type, focusing on the Marathi variant =c. Under the analysis I will discuss, =c signals that an underspecified, vague question is being interpreted so as to maximize the informativity of the answer provided by the prejacent. The analysis treats =c as a generalized “informativity booster'' that comments on the strength of the question that the prejacent resolves. This discourse function proposed for =c is substantively different from the discourse function associated with exclusives (like only), which are said to comment on the strength of the prejacent among alternative answers to a contextually fixed question.


The analysis proposed here thus identifies a new possible function for discourse management expressions, enriching our understanding of the typology of such expressions. Within Marathi, this new perspective allows us to treat =c as the pragmatic antonym of another enclitic particle in Marathi =tar which is analyzed as signaling that the question resolved by its prejacent is weak. At the crosslinguistic level, this new perspective opens the door to a better understanding of discourse particles by offering an explanation for why exclusivity, mirativity, precisification, and intensification often cluster together in many languages, another example I will consider being English just.


May 5, 2021


12:30-14:00, online via Webex


Lelia Glass

Georgia Institute of Technology


Quantifying relational nouns in corpora


While relational nouns (cousin) are traditionally delineated in a binary and theory-dependent manner, this paper approximates relationality as a continuous, objective corpus metric (Percent Possessive) – allowing for lexicon-wide exploration of which nouns are more or less relational and why. Comparing across nouns and accounting for the ontological class of the noun’s referent, I find that Percent Possessive is positively correlated with a noun’s per-million-word frequency. Comparing across different web communities, I find that a noun is more frequent, and shows a greater ratio of definite to indefinite tokens, in the community where its Percent Possessive is significantly higher. I take these findings to be consistent with the claim that a noun is more relational (as measured by Percent Possessive) when human interaction with its referent is more conventional (as measured by its frequency and definite-to-indefinite ratio). Inspired by the many authors who have suggested a socio-cultural component to relationality and possession, this paper explores at scale in English how nouns reflect the conventions of the people who use them.


Talk slides


April 28, 2021


12:30-14:00, online via Webex


Noortje Venhuizen

Universität des Saarlandes

Distributional Formal Semantics


Formal Semantics and Distributional Semantics offer complementary strengths in capturing the meaning of natural language. As such, a considerable amount of research has sought to unify them, either by augmenting formal semantic systems with a distributional component, or by defining a formal system on top of distributed representations. Arriving at such a unified formalism has, however, proven extremely challenging. One reason for this is that formal and distributional semantics operate on a fundamentally different 'representational currency': formal semantics defines meaning in terms of models of the world, whereas distributional semantics defines meaning in terms of linguistic context. An alternative approach from cognitive science, however, proposes a vector space model that defines meaning in a distributed manner relative to the state of the world. In this talk, we will present a re-conceptualization of this approach by deriving it from well-known principles of formal semantics, thereby demonstrating its full logical capacity. The resulting Distributional Formal Semantics is shown to offer the best of both worlds: contextualized distributed representations that are also inherently compositional and probabilistic. We will then show how these representations can be used for 'deep language modeling', by introducing a neural network model that captures various semantic phenomena, including probabilistic inference and entailment, negation, quantification, reference resolution and presupposition.

Talk slides


January 20, 2021


12:30-14:00, online via Webex


Kurt Erbach und Leda Berio

Universität Bonn and HHU Düsseldorf


Counting and categorizing:

The relationship between the mass/count distinction and thought


In this talk, we propose that the count/mass distinction has meddler and spotlight effects on thought (see Wolff and Holmes 2010) which is supported by the interaction between syntax and categorization in noun acquisition of speakers of languages with distinct counting morphosyntax (e.g. Gordon 1985; Imai & Gentner 1997; Lucy & Gaskins 2003). It has been shown that speakers of languages with different counting systems both make use of the same cognitive tools, albeit differently (Inagaki & Barner 2009; Barner, Inagaki & Li 2009). For example, in English counting constructions, nouns are distinguished as either count or mass while in Japanese counting constructions, all nouns are counted with classifiers. Despite these differences, speakers of both languages behave one way with respect to nouns that refer to complex objects and another way with nouns that refer to non-solid substances (Inagaki & Barner 2009, Imai & Gentner 1997) though there are some differences across languages in behavior with nouns that refer to simple objects and non solid substances (Imai & Gentner 1997; cf. Lucy & Gaskins 2003). While it has been argued that this state of affairs rules out stronger Whorfian accounts of language (Bale & Barner 2019), we provide a more detailed account of the relation between the count/mass distinction and thought.


Talk slides


January 13, 2021


12:30-14:00, online via Webex


Nina Haslinger

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen


Plurals as higher-order scalar predicates: Unifying cumulativity and non-maximality


Sentences like (i) are traditionally taken have distinct cumulative and distributive readings. While the distributive reading requires Ann and Sarah to each like all of the four neighbors, the cumulative reading merely requires that Ann and Sarah each like at least one of the neighbors and each neighbor is liked by at least one of them. This is usually viewed as an ambiguity that reflects the presence or absence of distributivity or cumulation operators in the LF of such sentences (for an overview, see Champollion to appear).


(i) Ann and Sarah like their four neighbors.


In this talk, I present English and German data in support of two empirical claims that complicate this standard picture. First, the availability of cumulative readings appears to be a context-dependent matter: A sentence containing two or more plurals is acceptable in a cumulative scenario only if that scenario answers the QUD or ‘issue’ raised in the discourse context in the same way as a distributive scenario. I argue that this contextdependency does not just reflect pragmatic pressure to address the QUD. Instead, it seems to be of a piece with a semantic constraint defended by Kriz (2015) for non-maximal readings of definites (see also Malamud 2012): Roughly, a sentence like (ii) may be true in a non-maximal scenario only if that scenario provides the same answer to the QUD/’issue’ as a maximal scenario.


(ii) The neighbors are asleep.


Second, the acceptability of sentences like (i) in cumulative scenarios is influenced by the extensions of alternative predicates: (i) can clearly be judged true if Ann likes neighbors 1 and 2 and Sarah likes neighbors 3 and 4, but seems less acceptable if the scenario further specifies that Ann absolutely hates 3 and 4 and Sarah absolutely hates 1 and 2. Again, this behavior parallels previous observations about standard cases of nonmaximality like (ii), where it seems to make a difference whether the `exceptional' neighbors are reading quietly or having a noisy street party (cf. Kriz 2015).


In sum, there are far-reaching parallels between cumulative readings of sentences with multiple plurals and nonmaximal readings of plural definites. Yet, since these parallels can be replicated with cumulative readings of predicate and sentential conjunctions ((iii), cf. Schmitt 2019) and cumulative readings of quantifiers ((iv), cf. Schein 1993 a.o.), cumulativity cannot be reduced to a non-maximal interpretation of the individual plurals involved.


(iii) The ten experts said that Macron will resign and that Merkel won't resign.

(iv) Ann and Sarah read every book on the list.


I show how this data pattern can be captured within a nonstandard plural semantics that relies both on the analogy between plural quantification and vague scalar predication (Burnett 2017) and on the idea that complex constituents containing a plural expression themselves receive a plural denotation via special composition rules (Schmitt 2019). Plural expressions of any category denote partially ordered scales with a ‘positive set’ and a ‘negative set’ that parallels the positive and negative extension of vague scalar predicates. In particular, like the scales for vague predicates, these plural scales may have a gap between the positive and the negative set which is resolved in a QUD-dependent manner, accounting for the context-dependency of cumulative and non-maximal interpretations. Further, the analogy between plural predication and scalar predication gives rise to a unified account of the role of alternative predicates in the semantics of cumulative and non-maximal sentences.




Burnett, Heather (2017): Gradability in natural language. Logical and grammatical foundations (Oxford Studies in Semantics and Pragmatics 7). Oxford University Press.


Champollion, Lucas (to appear): Distributivity, collectivity, and cumulativity. In Daniel Gutzmann, Lisa Matthewson, CŹcile Meier, Hotze Rullmann & Thomas Ede Zimmermann (eds.), Blackwell Companion to Semantics.


Kriz, Manuel (2015): Aspects of homogeneity in the semantics of natural language. University of Vienna dissertation.


Malamud, Sophia A. (2012): The meaning of plural definites: A decision-theoretic approach. Semantics and Pragmatics 5(3). 1–58.


Schein, Barry (1993): Plurals and Events. MIT Press.


Schmitt, Viola (2019): Cross-categorial plurality and plural composition. Semantics and Pragmatics 12(17)


Talk slides


December 2, 2020


12:30-14:00, online via Webex


Mia Windhearn

Heinrich Heine University


Exclusive Quantification without Focus Alternatives


This talk will discuss quantification by exclusive operators and the availability of semantic alternatives both with and without an overt focus structure. Exclusive operators like only have traditionally been assumed 1) to associate with focus, and 2) to quantify over propositions (Rooth 1992). I will argue that most focus-sensitive operators should more accurately be characterized as alternative-sensitive. Focus sensitivity is thus a sub-type of a broader phenomenon of alternative semantics, even in the context of exclusive operators.


Much of the data comes from English just and its wide range of uses as canonical and non-canonical exclusive, some of which are exemplified below. As indicated, only a subset of these uses make use of a prosodic focus structure.


(1) The lamp just broke! (All by itself!) (Unexplanatory)

(2) Bob is just a [philosopher]F (not a linguist). (Focus-Evaluative)

(3) Carl just has [two]F degrees. (Focus-Entailment)

(4) Ana has just gone to get her car. (Temporal)

(5) There’s a spider just above your head. (Spacial)

(6) That spider is just gigantic! (Emphatic)


In addition to English just, I will discuss some data from Serbian and Ch’ol that further support the separation of alternative set generation and focus. I will provide a unified semantics for exclusivity that takes exclusive operators to take arguments of variable type. In doing so, following Zimmermann 2017, I propose that exclusives should not be taken to quantify over propositions. I argue instead that exclusive operators take a structured proposition including the ‘locus’ of alternation and the background question as their argument. Focus is one mechanism for providing such a locus, but as I hope to show, by no means the only strategy available to exclusive operators.


Talk slides


November 18, 2020


12:30-14:00, online via Webex


Todd Snider

Heinrich Heine University


Constraints on Propositional Anaphora


Talk slides


Anaphors are words whose reference is determined on the basis of the interpretation of some other word or phrase (its antecedent). For example, pronouns are anaphors whose antecedents denote individuals, as in (1).


(1) Nancy has a car. She has owned it for five years.


This talk will focus on anaphors which refer to propositions, as in (2).


(2) Nancy has a car. She told me that.


In particular, this talk will discuss some of the constraints on propositional anaphora, exploring when propositional anaphora is licit (and when it is not).


The first part of the talk deals with pragmatic discourse-level constraints, in particular at-issueness. There are competing notions of at-issueness, but many are discussed in the literature—explicitly or implicitly—as having consequences for a proposition's availability for anaphora in non-trivial ways (e.g., AnderBois et al. 2013). I argue against this tight linking, and demonstrate that a proposition's at-issue status in a discourse (at least as defined by Simons et al. 2010) is neither necessary nor sufficient to determine its availability for anaphora. Thus, propositional anaphora is not constrained by atissueness, at least under one prominent definition thereof.


The second part of the talk moves from the discourse to the sentence, to see if there are syntactic constraints on propositional anaphora. In the tradition of Karttunen's (1969) examination of which NPs make an individual available for anaphoric reference, I present (highlights from) a comprehensive examination of which structures make propositions available for anaphora. I present some surprising results which cut across traditional syntactic classifications, including data on small clause and raising/control/ECM verb constructions. This data leads me to propose a new generalization for when propositions are available for anaphoric reference. I then compare the observed behavior of propositional anaphora to that of individual anaphora.


November 4, 2020


12:30-14:00, online via Webex


Peter Sutton

Heinrich Heine University


A non-identity does not imply a plurality: The Problem of the Many and the semantics of numeral constructions


Talk slides


The Problem of the Many (Geach, 1962; Lewis, 1993; Unger, 1980) is a paradox that arises in relation to counting and/or quantifying over entities in the denotations of count nouns. For example, there are contexts/situations in which it is true that there is one cloud in the sky, however, when it comes to the extension of the cloud in question, there are multiple, non-identical sums of water droplets, each of which is an equally good candidate to be the extension of that cloud. Therefore, either each of these sums of droplets is a cloud and we have many clouds or no sum of droplets is a cloud and so we have no clouds. Either way, paradoxically, we do not have one cloud, contrary to our starting assumption.


Perhaps surprisingly, the Problem of the Many is not usually discussed in relation to the semantics of numeral constructions such as one/two/three clouds. In this talk, I argue that the Problem of the Many forces us adopt an analysis of count nouns and numeral phrases based on a logically weaker mereological property than is commonly assumed. However, once we do so, it becomes clear what the source of the paradox is and how to avoid it: when it comes to counting with natural language predicates, it is not the case that a non-identity implies a plurality. In other words, we have good reason to think that if a and b are in the extension of P and ab, it is not always the case that the sum of a and b counts as two Ps.



January 15, 2020


Aviv Schoenfeld

Tel Aviv University


The subkind reading of nouns and the hierarchical structure of kinds


The research question is: which nouns in English can get a subkind reading? The key data is in (1-4). I will present experimental support to the contrast between wild animal - wildlife in (1)-(2), which parallels that of vehicle-transport, treated in Sutton & Filip (2018: ex.5):


(1) I wonder which wild animal is the most common.

(2) #I wonder which wildlife is the most common.

(3) I wonder which cheese is the most common.

(4) I wonder which food is the most common.


From Grimm & Levin (2017) and Sutton & Filip (2018), I derive the hypothesis that a noun can get a subkind reading if and only if it heads a certain hierarchical structure. I formulate the relevant structure based on data like (5)-(7), regarding which kinds can be in the denotation of nouns with a subkind reading:


(5) Mutts are the most popular dog in America.

(Mutts are dogs that are unclassified for breed.)

(6) Knives are a prominent weapon in ancient Indian history.

(Not every knife is a weapon.)

(7) Grass is the most valuable plant on the planet.

(Not everything that counts as grass is a plant organism.)


Under my analysis, for count nouns like animal in (1), it does not matter whether the subkinds are named by count or mass nouns, but it does matter for mass nouns like those in (2)-(4). I will show that cheese and food head the relevant structure, because there are enough subkinds that are named by mass nouns (e.g. cheddar and mozzarella, meat and dairy). The same does not hold for wildlife in (2), e.g. English has no mass noun counterpart of tiger. Thus, I provide an alternative analysis to those in Grimm & Levin (2017) and Sutton & Filip (2018) regarding why object mass nouns like furniture and wildlife lack a subkind reading.


Grimm, Scott & Beth Levin. 2017. Artifact nouns: Reference and countability. Proceedings of the North East

Linguistic Society (NELS) 47. 55-64.

Sutton, Peter R. & Hana Filip. 2018. Restrictions on subkind coercion in superordinate object mass

nouns. Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 21. 1195-213.


December 4, 2019


Jeremy Kuhn

Institut Jean Nicod, CNRS

École Normale Supérieure


Gather/numerous as a mass/count opposition


Predicates like gather and be numerous have both been described as ‘collective predicates,’ since they predicate something of a plurality. The two classes of predicates differ, however, with respect to plural quantifiers (e.g. all), which are grammatical with gather-type predicates but ungrammatical with numerous-type predicates. Here, I show that the gather/numerous opposition derives from mereological properties that are familiar from the domains of telicity and mass/count. I address problems of undergeneration and overgeneration with two technical innovations: first, I weaken the property of divisibility to Champollion’s (2015) property of stratified reference; second, I provide mechanisms to rule out accidental satisfaction of the logical property. From a broader perspective, we place collective predication in a larger context by building empirical connections to mass/count and collectivity across semantic domains.


July 3, 2019


Alexander Stewart Davies

University of Tartu


Contingent Content Parthood and the False Dichotomy

between Speech Act Pluralism and Speech Act Monism


In a string of publications dating back to 1997, Cappelen and Lepore have used the fact that there can be multiple true indirect speech reports, each with a different complement, but nonetheless, made of a single utterance of a sentence, to defend the view that when we utter a sentence, we don’t just say one thing (the content of the sentence uttered), we thereby say many things. In this paper, I argue that neither view is correct. I argue that “thing that A said” is a homogeneous count noun phrase, and for that reason, just as whether there is one or three bouquets in my hand depends upon the context for counting, so too, how many things a person says in uttering a sentence in context, depends on the context for counting. In the course of the argument, I will need a notion of content parthood. I provide a novel definition of content parthood which makes content parthood contingent. Thus, the parts of what someone says depend upon the world in which she says them. Ignorance of the world in which one says something, results in ignorance of (the parts of) what one is saying.


June 26, 2019


Yasutada Sudo

University College London


The Plurality Inference as a Non-Propositional Quantity Implicature


Plural nouns typically give rise to 'plurality inferences', e.g. "Andrew wrote papers" implies that Andrew wrote multiple papers, not just one. However, plurality inferences are not always present, e.g. "Andrew did not write papers" does not mean the same thing as "Andrew did not write multiple papers". There are three types of approaches to the plurality inference: (i) the scalar implicature approach (Spector 2007, Zweig 2009, Ivlieva 2013, Mayr 2015), (ii) the ambiguity approach (Farkas & de Swart 2010, Grimm 2013, Martí 2018), and (iii) the antipresupposition approach (Sauerland 2003, Sauerland et al. 2005).


In this talk, I will propose a new scalar implicature account. The idea of the scalar implicature account is that the plural is semantically number-neutral, and the plurality inference arises as a scalar implicature in competition with the singular. Previous studies pointed out that the scalar implicature computation is not so straightforward, given that pairs like "Andrew wrote papers" and "Andrew wrote a paper" will be truth-conditionally identical, if the plural is semantically number-neutral. Different versions of the scalar implicature account make use of different truth-conditional asymmetries, e.g. non-global levels of meaning, strengthened meaning for the singular alternative, etc. I propose instead that the plurality inference can be derived as a global-level quantity implicature based on a non-truth-conditional aspect of the meaning. Specifically, the singular and plural sentences differ in anaphoric possibilities: the plural sentence introduces a discourse referent that ranges over singular or plural entities, while the singular sentence introduces a discourse referent that only ranges over singular entities. Based on this asymmetry, a quantity implicature is derived that the discourse referent is meant to only range over plural entities. This analysis requires no additional mechanism beyond what is usually assumed (embedded scalar implicature or higher-order implicature), unlike the previous scalar implicature accounts. I will formalize this idea in Update Semantics, and demonstrate that it makes correct predictions about negative sentences and quantified sentences.


June 12, 2019


Nina Haslinger

University of Göttingen


Viola Schmitt

University of Vienna


Cumulative readings of quantifiers: A plural projection approach

We present an analysis of cumulative readings of quantifiers in German within the Plural Projection framework of Schmitt (2017). In this theory, the property of semantic plurality is generalized across categories: In addition to pluralities of individuals, there are pluralities of functions, propositions etc. Further, when a constituent X dominates a semantically plural expression Y, X counts as a plural expression as well and its denotation inherits the part structure associated with Y via a special composition rule. Cumulative readings are the result of repeatedly applying this composition rule. Unlike earlier approaches to cumulativity, this analysis is surface-compositional and does not make crucial use of event semantics.


We will apply this framework to two types of examples. The first type involves universal quantifiers that have cumulative readings wrt. syntactically higher plurals, but not wrt. syntactically lower plurals. For instance, the 'every' DP in (1-a) has a cumulative reading, while the one in (1-b) does not (Schein 1993, Kratzer 2000 a.o.).

 (1) a. Two girls fed every dog in this town.
     b. Every girl in this town fed two dogs.

In German, this class includes DPs with the determiner 'jed-' ('every') as well as distributive conjunctions with 'sowohl ... als auch' ('as well as'). The second type of examples involves cumulative readings of modified numerals like 'genau n Leute' ('exactly n people') or 'gerade mal n Leute' ('no more than n people'). As noted by Buccola & Spector (2016), the upper bounds introduced by numeral modifiers seem to disappear in some cumulative sentences:


(2) Gerade mal fünf Leute haben mehr als 20 Liter Bier getrunken.
      no.more.than five people have more than 20 liters beer drunk
     'No more than five people drank more than 20 liters of beer.'

(2) can be true in scenarios where more than five people drank beer. We argue that such non-upper-bounded readings are only available if the modified-numeral DP cumulates with another plural in its scope. If so, cumulative readings of universal quantifiers and cumulative readings of modified numerals are both subject to semantic asymmetries conditioned by scope. So both classes of quantifiers provide evidence that cumulativity does not entail scopelessness.


In the Plural Projection framework, interactions between cumulativity and scope are unsurprising since cumulative sentences do not involve a special LF syntax (as proposed by Beck & Sauerland 2000). The theory allows us to give a natural account of the asymmetry in (1) and can be extended to cover examples like (2) by combining it with a two-dimensional semantics for modified numerals. We will also show how this framework accounts for the `mixed' cumulative/distributive readings discussed by Schein (1993). Finally, we will provide an independent argument against analyses based on syntactically derived cumulative predicates. The argument involves cumulative readings of sentences in which plural quantifiers occur within a conjunction.


Beck, Sigrid and Uli Sauerland (2000): Cumulation is needed: a reply to Winter (2000). Natural Language Semantics 8(4): 349-371.
Buccola, Brian and Benjamin Spector (2016): Modified numerals and maximality. Linguistics and Philosophy 39: 151-199.
Kratzer, Angelika (2000): The event argument and the semantics of verbs. Manuscript, UMass Amherst.
Schein, Barry (1993): Plurals and Events. Cambridge/MA: MIT Press.
Schmitt, Viola (2017): Pluralities across categories and plural projection. Manuscript, University of Vienna.


April 17, 2019

Massimo Poesio

Queen Mary University of London


Disagreements in anaphoric interpretation

The assumption that natural language expressions have a single, discrete and clearly identifiable meaning in a given context, successfully challenged in lexical semantics by the rise of distributional models, nevertheless still underlies much work in computational linguistics, including work based on distributed representations.


In this talk I will first of all present the evidence that convinced us that the assumption that a single interpretation can always be assigned to anaphoric expression is no more than a convenient idealization. I will then discuss recent work on the DALI project that aims to develop a new model of interpretation that abandons this assumption for the case of anaphoric interpretation / coreference. I will present the recently released Phrase Detectives 2.1 corpus, containing around 2 million crowdsourced judgments for more than 100,000 markables, an average of 20 judgments per markable; the Mention Pair Annotation (MPA) Bayesian inference model developed to aggregate these judgments; and the results of a preliminary analysis of disagreements in the corpus suggesting that between 10% and 30% of markables in the corpus appear to be genuinely ambiguous.


April 10, 2019

Ai Taniguchi

Carleton University


Non-redundancy, social meaning, and role language


In this talk I use tools from formal semantics and pragmatics to analyze social meaning, and argue that social meaning is an imposition on the input context of an utterance. Particularly, I explain why the repeated usage of a sociolinguistic variant in discourse is not redundant. I then extend this analysis to an understudied phenomenon in Japanese called role language.


Social meaning indexes a speaker’s identity and stances, including but not limited to geographical origin, age, gender, sexual orientation and even friendliness (cf., Eckert 2000; 2008; among others). For example, the monophthongized version of /paI/ realized as [pa:] and /ɹaIli/ as [ɹa:li] in (1) both index southernness. I call expressions like [pa:]/ [ɹa:li] socially indexing expressions (SIE’s).

(1) Riley [ɹa:li] bought a pie [pa:].

     ‘Riley bought a pie’ + ‘The speaker is from the South.’


Some scholars wonder if social meaning is a conventional implicature (CI) (Levinson 1979; Smith et al. 2010): a secondary entailment that comments on the primary (at-issue) entailment (Potts 2005). While I agree with Smith et al. (2010) that social meaning is a secondary entailment, I argue that it’s not a CI. Formally, I will analyze the social meaning of SIE’s as the intersection of its indexical field (the set of properties associated with the variant (Eckert 2008)) and what I call the indexical set, which is the set of all possible possible personas for the speaker, according to the hearer. This has the effect of making social meaning hearer-dependent: no matter what persona you want to portray to the world, what persona you actually end up conveying depends on how the hearer perceives you (Burnett 2019).


Role language refers to a set of linguistic expressions that depict the speaker’s “character type,” largely seen in Japanese fiction (Teshigawara & Kinsui 2011; Kinsui 2003). For example, -nya in (2) indicates that

the speaker is a cat character.


(2) nyaa-tachi-no    mokuteki-wa   mezurashii pokemon ... sore-o        wasureru-nya!

    me.nya-PL-GEN   objective-top   rare           Pokemon     that-ACC    forget-NEG.NYA

   ‘Our objective is (to catch) rare Pok ́emon. . . don’t forget that!’ + ‘The speaker is a cat’


I argue in this talk that role language is really a kind of social meaning, contrary to Teshigawara & Kinsui (2011)’s suggestion that social meaning does not include traits like speaker species. Something like -nya is analyzable as a SIE with a fairly specific indexical field: {λxλw.catw(x)}. It just means that the speaker is speaking a (faux) cat dialect. This work contributes to recent efforts by scholars (e.g., Beltrama & Staum Casasanto 2017; Burnett 2019; Smith et al. 2010) to bridge the gap between the sociolinguistic literature and the formal semantics/pragmatics literature. From this we gain insights into how different layers of meanings interact in language and manifest in identity construction.


April 3, 2019

Henk Zeevat

SFB991, HHU Düsseldorf and ILLC, Amsterdam University


Semantics made easy(?): Non-lexical frame semantics


Standard logical representation of NL meaning starts from logic as given by the logical tradition (Boole, Frege, Kripke) and takes the basic organisation of standard logical systems (variables, boolean operators, quantifiers) as given. It is very questionable though that any of the logical operators in that tradition can be found in natural languages as constants. Non-lexical frame semantics (NLFS) is an attempt to come up with a different style of logical representation that is closer to the syntactic organisation of NLs than, e.g., DRT and that abolishes variables and logical operators by developing a new account of scope phenomena.


NLFS is a geometrical model based on the graphs of frame semantics or dependency grammar (this taking on board both the Frame Hypothesis and the essential identity of syntactic representation with logical representation) and adding two new arrows: domina arrows to indicate that an element depends on another element and anaphora arrows that mark the relation between an anaphoric element and its antecedent. Negation is treated by introducing the notion of a negative predicate that excludes values for its non-dependent arguments. NL conjunction is treated by a combinatorial extension of the standard representations.


The system is intended as a linguistic account of logical representation. It should be better in dealing with semantic universals and in capturing linguistic generalisations, e.g., between quantification, negation and conditionals, as well as aiming for simplicity. Since it also covers new ground, it constitutes a challenge to other proposals for logical representation of NL meaning.


January 9, 2019

Scott Grimm

University of Rochester


Plurality and Referentiality


Certain uses of the plural form of indefinite nouns, such as in (1), have long been puzzling because they appear to include reference to singular entities.   


(1) a.  Q: Do you have children?   

           A: Yes, I have one.

     b.  Ed didn't see dogs. (False if Ed saw one dog)


Based on such examples, many researchers have argued that plural indefinite nouns are actually "inclusive", designating 'one or more' (including singular entities), rather than "exclusive", designating 'more than one' (excluding singular entities). Sauerland et al. (2005), among others, relate the inclusive reading to downward-entailing environments (such as negation or the antecedent of conditionals), claiming number “marking on indefinites in a downward entailing environment does not affect truth conditions”.   


This talk presents experimental and empirical evidence that the inclusive readings (i) cannot be causally related to downward-entailing environments, as this association both under- and over-generates and (ii) cannot be associated with indefinites in general, but only with non-specific/non-referential indefinites.   Instead, the experimental results indicate that the key factor is whether the indefinite can be construed as non-referential/generic, which favors inclusive readings, or referential, which resists them. The contexts which permit inclusive readings, e.g. negation and interrogatives, are shown to be just those which may in general block referential commitment. I argue this lack of referential commitment promotes inclusive plural readings.  I then discuss the typological prediction of this account, namely that inclusive plural readings should only occur in languages for which the bare plural has non-referential/generic uses, a claim which receives support from languages such as Armenian.


December 12, 2018

Jakub Kozakoszczak

University of Warsaw and Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf


Natural Negative Evidence in Formal Semantics


The common type of negative evidence employed in formal semantics is the judgment-based “somewhat elusive notion of semantic deviance –- a notion that the field of formal semantics acknowledges but might lack the right tools to model” (Vecchi et al. 2011). “[W]e still do not have a precise linguistic account of what it means for a linguistic expression to be “nonsensical” or semantically deviant, nor a clear relation between this notion and that of being unattested in a corpus: Semantic deviance remains a difficult and understudied phenomenon” (Vecchi et al. 2016).


In this talk, I will present (i) an analytic procedure of translating semantically unacceptable expressions to factorized comprehension sets (Katz 1964) via intended meaning and semantic hypothesis, and (ii) a statistical test to tell whether the expression has zero probability of occurring in text corpora given the meaning and the hypothesis. I will demonstrate this treatment on starred expressions from the existing literature. The resulting new type of evidence is the empirical probability that a given formalized meaning is impossible to occur. I will discuss its limitations and argue for its potential to address four flaws of the traditional judgment-based evidence:


1. Volatility. The differences in the judged acceptability among respondents can originate from different meanings ascribed to the expression.

2. Causal obliqueness. The psychological relation of unacceptability is equivocal in that it can be caused by different flaws, suit different explanations, and support unrelated hypotheses.

3. Unobservability. Judgments are produced by respondents through introspection whereas text corpora are intersubjectively observable.

4. Theory-loadedness. Judgment reports are responses to designed questions whereas language behavior documented in corpora occurs naturally without interaction with the researcher.


December 5, 2018

Federico Silvagni

Complutense University of Madrid


States, events and copulas: a Romance perspective


This talk focuses on the aspectual distinction between States and Events and its manifestations in Romance languages, with particular attention to Spanish. The main goal of this study is to establish a satisfactory limit between these two aspectual classes, by answering two main questions: (i) what is an Event (and, as a consequence, a State)? (ii) How is this distinction encoded in grammar?


The need for this study derives from the puzzling (and long-standing) observation that [dynamism], or any other equivalent criterion (Vendler 1957; Kenny 1963; Comrie 1976; a.o.), is not a relevant primitive of eventivity, since there are predicates that behave as Events despite the fact that they are non-dynamic, i.e. static (Dowty 1979; Maienborn 2005, 2007, 2011; a.o.). I observe that, once we abandon [dynamism], we reach a State/Event distribution that is equivalent to the Individual-Level/Stage-Level distinction (Milsark 1974; Carlson 1977), whose understanding, in fact, represents another major unknown for the research on inner aspect (see Fernald 2000; Fábregas 2012).


I put forward the hypothesis that the State/Event and the Individual/Stage distinctions are one and the same thing (see also Hoekstra 1992), and that the difference between the two classes rests merely on the lack or the presence of inner aspect. Moreover, based on the concept of ‘event’ adopted in modern (post-Einsteinian/Minkowskian) physics and philosophy, where reality is taken as a 4D continuum (3 Space + 1 Time dimensions), I propose that the aspectual primitive of eventivity is a ‘Spacetime point’, which I label as [Stage] (also Silvagni 2015, 2016, 2017).


In order to find out how such a [Stage] primitive (and, thus, the State / Event distinction) is encoded in grammar, I focus on non-verbal predication in Romance languages; more in particular, I study the Spanish copular alternation (ser/estar) and its relation to mono-copular languages, such as French and Italian. I empirically show that [Stage] is a formal feature (in the sense of Zeijlstra 2008, 2014), which is encoded in Event predicates (that is, SLPs) as an uninterpretable instance [uS], and that Eventive (or SL) structures are derived by an agreement operation between a predicate and an Asp head endowed with an [iS] feature, which is realized as estar in the case of Spanish.


The study provides a more accurate understanding of the State/Event distinction and, at the same time, the Individual/Stage contrast. Additionally, it constitutes a detailed analysis of non-verbal predication and copular alternation in Romance, which can also offer a comprehensive explanation of typical controversial phenomena, such as coercion and the IL/SL distinction in those languages that lack a SL-copula.


November 21, 2018

Radek Šimík

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


Interpreting Slavic bare NPs: Empirical reflections on the null hypothesis


The literature on bare NPs in articleless languages has been dominated by the neo-Carlsonian view, according to which bare NPs denote properties and can be type-shifted to other meaning types, such as particulars (iota), kinds (cap), or quantifiers (ex), whereby these type-shifts are restricted in various ways (Chierchia 1998, Krifka 2003, Dayal 2004, Geist 2010, a.o.). According to some versions of this view, bare singulars end up being interpreted on a par with definite descriptions, either essentially always (Dayal 2004) or always when they are topical (Geist 2010).


In my talk, I will offer an alternative, inspired by Heim’s work (Heim 1982, Heim 2011), according to which bare NPs in articleless languages, including bare singulars, are completely underspecified with respect to (in)definiteness. The idea is that bare NPs denote restricted variables (or functions from situations to such variables, being of type <s,e>), which either receive a value contextually or are bound by intra-sentential quantifiers (Heim 1982). Consequently, inferences typically associated with definite descriptions - particularly uniqueness and/or maximality - never really arise for bare NPs (contra the neo-Carlsonian view of “definite” bare NPs).


This return to what could be considered the null hypothesis - namely that definiteness is not even a relevant category in languages without articles - will be supported by corpus and experimental evidence. Novel analyses based on Czech corpus data (from Šimík & Burianová 2018) show that bare NPs are interpreted as indefinite more often than some theories would expect. Also, they exhibit no bias of singulars to be interpreted as definites (Dayal 2004) - the proportion of definite and indefinite bare singulars vs. plurals is identical. Furthermore, the majority of indefinite interpretations of Czech bare NPs can be traced to particular expressions in the clause (e.g. presentational verbs, negation, adverbs of quantification, etc.) - suggesting that indefinite interpretations indeed arise from clause-internal quantificational closure of the bare NP variable, contributed by a suitable object language expression. Indefinite bare singulars are thus no longer quirks requiring special treatment (Dayal 2004), but fall out naturally from the analysis. Another portion of evidence comes from experiments on the interpretation of Russian bare NPs, as compared to German (in)definite NPs (Šimík & Demian, submitted). These experiments show a weak but consistent effect of definiteness on uniqueness (sg) and maximality (pl) in German. Russian, on the other hand, exhibits no such consistent effect - Russian bare NPs are interpreted as indefinite (or non-definite) even if such an interpretation is primed by information structure (word order, prosody; cf. Geist 2010 and many others), or grammatical number (Dayal 2004), making the results fully consistent with the null hypothesis.


November 7, 2018

Halima Husič

Ruhr-Universität Bochum


Towards a Formal Account of the Countability of Qualities and Events


While abstract objects are a well-discussed topic in philosophy, in linguistics this class of nouns has occasionally been investigated, usually as part of a bigger linguistic issue, as e.g. derived nominals, countability or polysemy. In standard analyses of the semantics of count and mass nouns ‘abstract nouns’ are usually left out. However, ‘abstract nouns’ are frequent in language and they can also be count or mass:


(1)  Have you noticed how much beauty goes into dying?

(2)  One of the many virtues of pumpkins is the ability to combine equally well with sugar and spices or salt and cheeses, making them perfect for pies, cookies and cakes, as well as for soups, side dishes and stews.


In my talk I will discuss the polysemy of nouns that denote abstract entities and tackle the question how countability is defined in such nouns. I will present an empirical investigation of such nouns which includes (i) an annotation of lexical properties that are responsible for a count and mass interpretations, (ii) a specification of dependent senses of nouns and how they are derived and (iii) a corpus study. Based on this research I will propose an analysis to account for count and mass uses of ‘abstract nouns’.



October 24, 2018

David Nicolas

CNRS, Institut Jean Nicod


(joint work with Salvatore Florio, University of Birmingham)


Plurals and mereology


A prominent tradition in linguistic semantics analyzes plurals by appealing to mereology (e.g. Massey 1976,Link 1983, Link 1998, Gillon 1992, Champollion 2016, Champollion 2017). The mereological approach to the semantics of plurals has attracted heavy criticisms, especially within philosophical logic where many authors subscribe to an alternative framework based on plural logic (e.g. Boolos 1984, Yi 1999, Rayo 2002, Rayo 2006, McKay 2006, Oliver & Smiley 2013). Some of the criticisms target a broader class of 'singularist' semantics which interpret plural expressions in terms of singular ones. The mereological approach is the most popular, and perhaps the most plausible, of those analyses.


These criticisms have been very influential in philosophy. What has been overlooked is that, once the mereological approach is properly understood, linguists have the basic tools to respond. Our aim is to clarify and develop these responses systematically, bringing together the linguistic and philosophical literature. 

In the first part of the talk, we offer a precise articulation of the mereological approach and of the semantic background in which the debate can be meaningfully reconstructed. We focus on the best-known implementation of the approach, namely that of Godehard Link, but we comment on the relevance of our discussion for alternative implementations.


In the second part, we deal with the criticisms and assess their logical, linguistic, and philosophical significance. Our conclusion is that the mereological approach fares no worse than plural logic and that it remains a viable and well-motivated framework for the analysis of plurals.



October 17, 2108

Carol-Rose Little

Cornell University


Numerals and quantification in Ch’ol


In this talk, I investigate a set of underdescribed numeral constructions in Ch’ol that I call possessed numerals. Unlike the bare numerals in (1), these possessed numerals in (2) occur with possessive prefix i- and relational suffix -el, allowing both cardinal (2a) and ordinal (2b) interpretations.


(1) cha’-tyikil wiĖik

      two-CL     man

     ‘two men’


(2) Possessed numerals

      a.  tyi      i-cha’-tyikl-el   wiĖik

           TYI    A3-two-CL-RS   man

           ‘the two men’

      b.   i-cha’-tyikl-el=bä wiĖik

           A3-two-CL-RS=REL man

           ‘the second man’


The cardinal interpretation in (2a) contains tyi in addition to the possessed numeral and the ordinal interpretation in (2b) contains a relative clause marker =bä. Building off the semantics of bare numerals in Ch’ol (Bale and Coon, 2014), I propose a compositional semantics for these possessed numerals. I argue that tyi in (2a) introduces a uniqueness presupposition, supported by data from the ordinal construction and the possessed numeral ‘one’, which lack tyi. The morpheme tyi shows up in other quantificational phrases to derive strong quantifiers from weak quantifiers. For instance, I present data from other quantifiers like pejtyel and its possessed form tyi i-pejtyel-el ‘all’ that have similar entailment differences as (2a) and (1) do. All data comes from my fieldwork in Chiapas, Mexico.


July 12, 2018

Lucas Champollion

New York University


Two switches in the theory of counterfactuals: A study of truth conditionality and minimal change


I report on a comprehension experiment on counterfactual conditionals based on a context involving two switches (joint work with Ivano Ciardelli and Linmin Zhang). We found that the truth-conditionally equivalent clauses (i) switch A or switch B is down and (ii) switch A and switch B are not both up make different semantic contributions when embedded in counterfactual antecedents. Assuming compositionality, this contradicts the textbook view that meaning can be identified with truth conditions. This finding has a clear explanation in inquisitive semantics: truth-conditionally equivalent clauses may be associated with different propositional alternatives, each of which counts as a separate counterfactual assumption. Related results from the same experiment challenge the common Stalnaker-Lewis interpretation of counterfactuals as involving minimizing change with respect to the actual state of affairs. We propose to replace the idea of minimal change by a distinction between foreground and background for a given counterfactual assumption: the background is held fixed in the counterfactual situation, while the foreground can be varied without any minimality constraint.


(This talk presents work reported in a paper recently appeared in the journal Linguistics and Philosophy, available at


July 4, 2018

Eytan Zweig

University of York


Semantic and Pragmatic Effects on Bare Plurals in Questions


It is well established in the literature (see Sauerland et al. 2005 and Zweig 2009 among others) that in the context of a polar question, bare plurals and singular indefinites do not seem to be distinct; i.e., (1a) and (1b) will receive identical answers, “Yes” for at least one apple and “No” only if there are no apples whatsoever:


1a. Do we have apples in our pantry?

1b. Do we have an apple in our pantry?


What is less frequently discussed in the literature, however, is that this similarity is modulated by a variety of pragmatic considerations, relating to both the context in which the question was asked and the possible referents for the noun phrase in question. In this talk, I will explore some of these effects, presenting novel data from a visual world experiment and discussing the theoretical implications of its results in the greater context of plural semantics.


June 27, 2018

Luka Szucsich

HumboldtUniversity Berlin


Obviation in North Slavic languages


In many languages, including Romance and some Slavic languages, subjunctive clauses selected by volitional verbs allow for syntactic phenomena to occur in a less local domain than it is the case with other types of subordinate clauses (especially indicative clauses). One of these phenomena is socalled ‛obviation’, i.e. obligatory disjoint reference of subjects in the matrix clause and subjects in subjunctive clauses, cf. (1) for Polish.


(1) Jareki         chce,          żeby      pro*i/j   śpiewał.                                                   Polish

     JarekM:SG:N   wantPRS:3:SG  thatSUBJ  pro     singLPTM:SG

     ‛Jarek wants him to sing.’


Obviation is often attributed to ‛domain extension‘ collapsing the tense domains of the matrix and the embedded clause. The nature of domain extension, however, is rarely explicitly analyzed. I will present an analysis of obviation effects which relies on crossclausal feature dependencies. I assume that (potentially crossclausal) occurrences of features may constitute the relevant domains for construal processes. Selectional properties of volitional verbs and the deficiency of the clausal complement‘s Tfeature provide the prerequisite for crossclausal feature sharing, i.e. the matrix and the complement clause‘s Tfeatures form one feature chain making the respective instances featurally identical. I will show, however, that feature identity may be not only determined by φfeatures and referential indices, but also by features such as [Īagentivity], or features determining, whether a situation is subject to control by a participant (Szabolcsi’s RESP feature), or contrastive focus features.


June 13, 2018

Marcin Wągiel

Masaryk University Brno


Subatomic quantification in natural language


In standard latticetheoretic approaches to natural language (e.g., Link 1983, Landman 2000, Champollion 2017) singularities and pluralities are presumed to involve distinct mereologies and it is commonly supposed that quantificational expressions do not access subatomic partwhole relations. In this talk, I explore three hypotheses regarding natural language semantics: (i) natural language is sensitive to topological relations holding between parts of singularities (cf. Grimm 2012), (ii) there are general counting rules that presuppose such relations, and (iii) quantification over parts is subject to identical restrictions as quantification over wholes. I propose that ‘to be countable' means ‘to be an integrated part of an integrated whole' where ‘part' employs the reflexive mereological ≤ relation, and thus covers both proper and improper parts. In other words, only an entity conceptualized as a whole that comes in one piece can be put in onetoone correspondence with the natural numbers. Similar, a proper part of such an entity that is conceptualized as an integrated object is also countable. The evidence for the linguistic relevance of this claim comes from the interaction between cardinal numerals and partitives involving irregular plurals in Italian as well as distinct classes of Polish ‘half', ‘part' and ‘whole' words and from the quantificational behavior of multipliers such as the English ‘double’.


May 30, 2018

John Collins

University of East Anglia


The Syntax-Semantics Interface and Its Ontological Significance


The orthodoxy in semantic theory is that semantics carries various presuppositions and entailments about ontology - the world. I shall suggest that all the virtues of the orthodoxy may be retained while relinquishing the ontological load. Semantics, on such a view, constitutes constraints upon what can be said rather than determinants of how the world is.


May 2, 2018

Jon Ander Mendia

Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf


Epistemic Numbers


Epistemic Numbers (ENs) are complex cardinal numerals formed by combining a number with a nonnumerical expression, typically an indefinite. Unlike other cardinal numbers, ENs (i) denote a range of possible values, and (ii) convey an epistemic effect of uncertainty or vagueness about the exact number. For instance, a sentence like twentysome people came is an acceptable answer to a question like How many people came?, and it can denote integers ranging from 21 to 29, conveying that the speaker is unsure about the exact number. I focus on three main crosslinguistic facts: (i) some languages allow ENs with a variety of quantifiers, not just indefinites akin to some or whindefinites; (ii) in some languages ENs can either precede or follow the numeral; and (iii) the interpretation of ENs depends on the numerical base of the language, and cannot combine with just any numeral. Giving prominence to this crosslinguistic variability, in this talk, I provide an initial semantic analysis flexible enough to account for a variety of languages, and a pragmatic account of the epistemic effect.


April 25, 2018

Henk Zeevat

University of Amsterdam & Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf


Quantification in Frames


In earlier work, I discussed the Stat'imc'ets quantifier system in which no generalised quantifier can take scope over another and which therefore only has cumulative readings for QNP V QNP sentences. This gives an argument for frames as the basis for NL semantics rather than (extensions of) FOL, since, in the latter systems, quantifiers are predicted to have scope over each other by default and cumulative readings that have to be painfully reconstructed. The Stat'imc'ets data seem to show that rather than scope taking readings, cumulative readings are the typologically unmarked case for QNP V QNP sentences.


Stat'imc'ets has however a category of formally distinct dependent NPs which together with possessive NPs allow for readings dependent on quantifiers. These readings need to be accounted for, just like the possibility of the Stat'imc'ets system leading to a system like English in which all quantifiers can be dependent. The talk will present a new treatment of this using the attribute domina which links dependent NPs to their dominant NP or operator (this is just the easiest way of dealing with quantifier scope in dependency grammar). Dominated NPs will end up having functional denotations in an extension of a standard satisfaction semantics for frames and will so also allow an explanation of the paycheck sentences. Also, the Barry Schein mixed cases can be adequately treated (cumulative but the tricks may be dependent on the basketball players):


Every basketball player learnt two new tricks from these videos.


Viola Schmitt's pioneering work on conjunction and plurals can be constructed as an argument against my frame analysis of cumulative quantification, showing that it is much too simple and needs extension to most other categories. This is a highly nontrivial business in frame semantics. An example is the cumulative reading (only Bill sang, only John danced) of:


John and Bill sang and danced.


A new generalisation is presented that overcomes the objection and that also deals with collective readings. The Stat'imc'ets quantifier system is a special case of the generalisation. A full treatment of conjunction in frames is however definitely an open problem.


April 18, 2018

Daniel Gutzmann

University of Cologne


I lost my damn watch!

Expressive adjectives between syntax and semantics


Expressive adjectives (EAs) received a lot of attention in the semantic literature, which however treated their syntax mostly just like that of ordinary descriptive adjective. However, as I show in this talk, EAs differ in many and sometime puzzling aspects from descriptive ones. They cannot be modified or carry degree morphology, for instance. Most crucially, they exhibit interesting compositional behavior since they can be interpreted in a position different than they appear. Arguing against a purely pragmatic approach, both experimentally and conceptually, I propose a syntactic solution for the constraints in the semantic interpretation of EAs that builds on the assumption that expressivity is a syntactic feature, on par with features like tense or number. I develop an (upwards) agreementbased analysis according to which the expressive content of an EAs is introduced by an uninterpretable expressivity feature which agrees with a corresponding interpretable feature at some higher node. This not only gets the restrictions about where EAs can be interpreted right but can also derive a lot of their special behavior and leads to direct mapping between syntactic structure and semantic interpretation.


January 24, 2018

Louise McNally

Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona


'Figurative' uses of verbs and grammar

(joint work with Alexandra Spalek)


The goal of this talk, based on work in progress with Alexandra Spalek, is to draw attention to the contrastive study of 'figurative' uses of verbs as a way of gaining a new perspective on the challenges that must be met when addressing the interaction between conceptual content associated with words and their grammatical properties. Specifically, I will present the results of a comparison of the 'literal' and 'figurative' uses of six English verbs and their Spanish counterparts. This comparison reveals that figurative uses are strongly constrained by grammatical properties of the literal uses, indicating that the two uses emanate from a single lexical entry for each verb. Crucially, we find striking contrasts between figurative uses in the two languages which correlate with independently identified contrasts in the grammars of their verbal systems. However, at the same time, we find striking similarities in the sorts of conceptual domains in which the figurative uses are attested for each pair, even when the grammatical details differ, pointing to important conceptual similarities between the English and Spanish counterparts. The data will therefore force us to ask how contrasting grammatical constraints are associated with similar conceptual content. I will offer some preliminary reflections on this question, particularly in relation to the debate over Levin & Rappaport Hovav's (1991) Manner/Result Complementarity hypothesis.


January 17, 2018

Michael Daniel

Linguistics Convergence Laboratory

National Research University

Higher School of Economics, Moscow


ROOM: Building 25.13, Room U1.24  (PLEASE NOTE THE CHANGE OF VENUE)


Associative plural as indexical category


Animacy Hierarchy was introduced as a cross-grammatical factor which governs, in different languages, widespread splits of nominal categories, including case or number marking. Among other phenomena, Animacy Hierarchy has been invoked to describe the lexical distribution of associative plurals (APL). In this paper I argue that APL as an interpretation of nominal plurality is motivated not by the high position the respective noun holds on the Animacy Hierarchy but is a combined effect of coercion by the unique reference inherent to proper names and associative links easily recoverable for human referents. Interpretation of APL relies upon activation of set relations its referent holds to other entities in the speech act or in the speech participants’ minds. APL is thus argued to be an indexical rather than a functional semantic category. --- In the end, and if we have time, I will place APL in the context of other interpretative, or 'vague' categories, such as flexible relative clauses and genitives.


January 10, 2018

Curt Anderson 

Heinrich Heine University


“Some” Exclamatives


In previous work (Anderson, to appear, Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 21), I provide an analysis of what I call “some”-exclamatives, an exclamative form in English using the determiner “some” along with an intonational contour marking it as an exclamative (as in “he is some lawyer!”). These exclamatives express a positive or negative evaluation of how the referent of the “some”-headed DP exemplifies the property denoted by the NP. In this talk, I present preliminary experimental data examining the interaction of rising/falling intonation and speaker evaluation. From an online judgement study, we find that listeners can use intonation to make inferences regarding whether the speaker is making a positive or negative evaluation. Additionally, we find interactions between bias and the semantic class of the nominal complement of “some” (whether the noun denotes a human or an instrument). I extend my prior analysis in order to account for some of these findings.



John Collins
University of East Anglia


The Syntax-Semantics Interface and Its Ontological Significance


The orthodoxy in semantic theory is that semantics carries various presuppositions and entailments about ontology the world. I shall suggest that all the virtues of the orthodoxy may be retained while relinquishing the ontological load. Semantics, on such a view, constitutes constraints upon what can be said rather than determinants of how the world is.


December 6, 2017

Keren Khrizman

Heinrich Heine University


Russian Diminutives as Counting and Measuring Operators: Implications for the Semantics of Counting, Measuring and the Mass/Count Distinction


Diminutive nominal suffixes occur in many typologically diverse languages and have a varied interpretational pattern. Crosslinguistic studies identify at least three uses of diminutives: (i) expression of smallness; (ii) expression of individuation into small/minimal units accompanied by a grammatical shift from mass to count noun; (iii) emotional evaluation (Jurafsky 1996, Schneider 2003/13, Fortin 2011). Previous research has focused on the contrast between proper diminutives expressing small size/measure and emotive diminutives (e.g. Schneider 2003/13, Fortin 2011) and there has been little semantic study of the individuating function of diminutives. The results of a few studies suggest that (at least in some languages) there may be a categorial distinction between the two types of suffixes: proper diminutives are adjectival (Fortin 2011, Wiltschko & Steriopolo 2007) while individuating suffixes are either quantificational (Jurafsky 1996, Fortin 2011) or classifiers (Wiltschko 2006, Ott 2011). However, this has not been explored in detail. The present project aims to explore the syntax and semantics of “proper” vs. individuating diminutives in Russian (as in stolik ‘a small table’ and risrisinka ‘rice a grain of rice’), focusing on the following questions: (i) Why do diminutives individuate, i.e. why does smallness facilitate grammatical individuation? (ii) Under what grammatical, lexical and pragmatic conditions do they individuate? (iii) Is the semantic contrast reflected in a syntactic, categorial distinction, and if so, then why? I explore these issues in the context of recent work on counting, measuring and the mass/count distinction (Chierchia 1998/2010, Krifka 1989/95, Landman 2004/16, Rothstein 2009/10/17, Filip & Sutton 2016) and hypothesize that individuating and nonindividuating diminutives belong to the class of counting and measuring operators respectively. More specifically, proper diminutives are measure modifiers assigning measure characteristics to entities, whereas individuating suffixes are counting operators which allow parts of substances to be counted. I show that studying diminutives in the proposed framework will lead to a better understanding of diminutives, and, also, it will throw light on fundamental topics in semantics including measuring, countability and individuation.


November 29, 2017

Kurt Erbach, Peter R. Sutton, Hana Filip, and Kathrin Byrdeck

Heinrich Heine University


Object mass nouns in Japanese


Classiřer languages are commonly taken to have no grammaticized lexical mass/count distinction, but rather have this distinction encoded through the syntax and semantics of classiřers (e.g. Chierchia 1998, 2010; Muromatsu 2003; Rothstein 2010, 2017). We contest this claim by drawing on data from Japanese, a typical classiřer language. We provide novel empirical evidence showing that Japanese quantiřers (e.g. nan-byaku-to-iu ‘hundreds of’) can be used as tests for the mass/count status of Japanese nouns in the absence of classiřers. Such quantifiers can directly modify nouns like onna-no-hito (‘woman’) denoting inherently individuable entities, but not nouns denoting undierentiated stu like yuki (‘snow’). Moreover, and more importantly, acceptability tests using these quantiřers lead to the identification of object mass nouns in Japanese, i.e. nouns that have inherently individuable entities in their denotation and yet are infelicitous in syntactic environments which are diagnostic of count nouns. This mismatch between notional and grammatical categories and the existence of object mass nouns in Japanese contradicts Chierchia's (2010) prediction that such noun behavior should not exist in classifier languages. It follows that Japanese lexical nominal system is endowed with a grammatical mass/count distinction, which bears a certain resemblance to that which we řnd in number marking languages (e.g. English), therefore casting doubt on the common view that classiřer languages have no grammaticized lexical mass/count distinction. We propose a novel semantic analysis of Japanese lexical nouns and classiřers, based on Sutton & Filip (2016), a framework that unites notions of context in Rothstein (2010) and Landman (2011), and motivates the idea that counting contexts can remove overlap so that count nouns have disjoint counting bases while mass nouns do not.


November 22, 2017

Yasutada Sudo

University College London


The semantic role of classifiers in Japanese


In obligatory classifier languages like Japanese, numerals cannot directly modify nouns without the help of a classifier. It is standardly considered that this is because nouns in obligatory classifier languages have uncountable denotations, unlike in non-classifier languages like English, and they need to be turned into countable denotations by classifiers before being able to be modified by numerals. Contrary to this, it is proposed that what makes Japanese an obligatory classifier language is not the semantics of nouns but the semantics of numerals. Specifically, evidence is presented that numerals in Japanese cannot function as predicates on their own, which is taken as suggesting that numerals in Japanese are exclusively used as singular terms. It is then proposed that the semantic function of classifiers is to turn such singular terms into modifiers/predicates.


November 15, 2017

Laura Kallmeyer and Rainer Osswald

Heinrich Heine University


Polysemy, Coercion, and Quantification


In this work we model systematic polysemy and its interaction with quantification within a framework that combines Lexicalized Tree Adjoining Grammar (LTAG) with frame semantics and Hybrid Logic (HL).


We first present the proposal from Babonnaud et al. (2016) according to which an inherently

polysemous noun such as `book', which provides referential access to both a physical and an

informational object, is assumed to refer to entities of type physicalobject which have an attribute content whose value is of type information. The physical aspect and the informational aspect are then addressed in different ways in contexts such as `read the book', `carry the book', `master the book' or `a heavy book on magic'.


Treating books as physical information carriers in this way gives rise to the following “quantification puzzle” as noted for instance in (Asher & Pustejovsky, 2006). While 'John carried off every book in the library' poses no problem since the domain of quantification consists of physical entities, it not obvious how to cope with 'John read every book in the library', which is naturally interpreted as quantifying over all contents of the books in the library. Since the library may own more than one copy of a book, there is not necessarily a onetoone correspondence between the physical books in the library and the book contents. It is not even necessary that John used a copy from the library at all.


The solution we propose retains the idea that books are treated as physical information carriers, i.e., we quantify over these physical objects, while using only the information components as arguments of the predicate in the scope of the quantifier. This is possible due to the flexibility of the chosen syntaxsemantics architecture, in particular, underspecified use of Hybrid Logic and specific syntaxsemantics interface features.


November 8, 2017

Eleni Gregoromichelaki and Jon Ander Mendia

Heinrich Heine University


Continuation and discussion of their respective talks on October 18 and 25, 2017.


October 25, 2017

Eleni Gregoromichelaki

Heinrich Heine University


Ad-hoc grammatical categorisation in DS-TTR


I will introduce a formalism, DS-TTR, motivated by the need to underpin dialogue modelling and explain the role of language in human interaction. In DS-TRR, the view of natural languages as codes mediating a mapping between “expressions” and the world is abandoned to give way to a model where utterances are taken as joint actions aimed to locally and incrementally alter the affordances of the context. Such actions employ perceptual stimuli composed not only of “words” and “syntax” but also elements like visual marks, gestures, sounds, etc. Any such stimuli can participate in the domain-general processes that constitute the “grammar”, whose function is to incrementally predict the next action steps via the dynamic categorisation and integration of various perceptual inputs. One consequence of this view is that specifically linguistic syntactic categories, representations or constraints are eschewed and explained away as the effects of the dynamics of interactive processing. Given these assumptions, a challenge that arises is how to account for the reification of such processes as exemplified in apparent metarepresentational practices like quotation, reporting, citation etc. I will argue that even such phenomena can receive adequate and natural explanations as “demonstrations” through a grammar that allows for the ad-hoc creation of occasion-specific content through reflexive mechanisms.


October 18, 2017

Jon Ander Mendia

Heinrich Heine University


Some kind of relative clause


Amount Relatives (ARs) differ from restrictive relative clauses in that they have an interpretation where what is referred to is not a particular object denoted by the head of therelative clause, but an amount of such objects (Carlson 1977, Heim 1987). For instance, the sentence it will take us the rest of our lives to drink the champagne they spilled that evening is ambiguous: on its more salient interpretation, the sentence claims that what would take us long to drink is a particular “amount” of champagne, not any “particular” champagne.

Virtually all extant analyses of ARs agree on one thing: the that-clause denotes a set of degrees. This is usually implemented by covert movement of a degree operator and abstraction over a degree variable.


In this talk I propose to reanalyze ARs. I suggest that the &quot;amount&quot; interpretation is a special case of “kind” interpretation. First, I show that both &quot;kind&quot; and “amount” interpretations show the same distinguishing properties when we compare them to ordinary (intersective) relative clauses. Second, I show that there is no trace of the presence of degree quantification/abstraction in ARs, a fact that, all else equal, is not expected if Ars were degree expressions. Then I analyze &quot;amount&quot; interpretations as cases of ad hoc “subkind” interpretations: the that-clause contributes a way to determine a particular subkind of the kind-level object provided by the head of the relative clause (in the example above, an ad hoc subkind of champagne). Time permitting, I will discuss the fact that other languages may possess ARs as envisioned by traditional analyses -i.e. they must be treated as degree expressions- and consider the cross-linguistic ramifications of this state of affairs.


July 26, 2017

Shalom Lappin

University of Gothenburg, King's College London and Queen Mary University of London

Deep Learning and Semantic Interpretation of Natural Language

Classical approaches to formal and computational semantics assign values to the terminal elements of hierarchical syntactic structures and define combinatorial operations on the semantic representations of phrases to compute the values of sentences. While these approaches offer formally elegant models of interpretation, they have not produced wide coverage systems. They do not provide for semantic learning. They have also not succeeded in integrating lexical and compositional semantics in an interesting or computationally efficient way. Recent developments in image caption generation suggest an alternative approach, which can overcome these difficulties. This work formulates the problem of matching images with descriptions as a task in machine translation. Deep neural networks use an encoder to map regions of pixels in an image to vector representations of graphic features, and a decoder to align these features with the distributional vectors of lexical and phrasal items. This approach can be generalized to deep neural networks that identify correspondences between multi-modal data structures and sentences. To the extent that this research program is successful, it will satisfy the core objective of the classical formal semantic program. It will assign truth (fulfilment) conditions to the sentences of a language, where these conditions are specified in terms of multi-modal representations of situations (scenes) in the world. These correspondences are generated not by a recursive definition of a truth predicate in a formal semantic theory, but by an extended deep neural language model.


July 19, 2017

Anna Czypionka

University of Konstanz


Temporal implicatures in sentence comprehension: Evidence from acceptability ratings and self-paced reading times Implicatures are inferences that go beyond the literal semantic meaning of an utterance. In psycholinguistics, scalar implicatures are the most widely researched type of implicature. These implicatures are triggered by scalar expressions, like some (implying some, but not all), and have been investigated in a number of paradigms. We present data on a new type of implicature, namely, temporal implicatures. These are triggered by temporal expressions like this week (implying this week, but not next). When combined with predicates that ascribe a temporary property like be ill, this implicature makes sense: John is ill this week implies that John is ill only this week. However, a combination with predicates ascribing permanent properties like be tall is less felicitous: # John is tall this week implies that John's size is not constant; this implicature clashes with speakers' world knowledge about the size of grown-ups.


A series of judgment studies employing the Literal Lucy paradigm show that just like scalar implicatures, temporal implicatures are psychologically real and are independent from the semantic meaning of the sentence. In addition, data from self-paced reading show that temporal implicatures are routinely drawn during language comprehension, and computed early. We argue that the infelicity of temporal modification with permanent predicates (# John is tall this week) is due to a pragmatic inference that conflicts with world-knowledge, rather than grammatical.


July 12, 2017

Agata Renans

Ulster University


Accounting for inferences of pluralized count and mass nouns : Evidence from Greek


Across languages, plural marking on count nouns typically gives rise to multiplicity inferences , indicating that there is more than one entity in the denotation of the noun. Plural marking has also been observed to occur on mass nouns in Greek, giving rise to a parallel abundance inference, indicating that there is a large quantity of what is denoted by the noun. Kane et al. (2016) propose a unified implicature account of abundance  and multiplicity inferences, which prima facie predicts a uniform pattern across inferences, and standard implicatures. We tested this prediction by comparing multiplicity inferences, abundances inferences, and standard implicatures in Greek-speaking children and adults. The results reflect an overall pattern of implicature calculation, supporting a unified implicature analysis across the inferences.


July 5, 2017

Kurt Erbach

Heinrich Heine University


Fighting for a share of the covers: Accounting for inaccessible readings of plural predicatesPlural predication presents a challenge that remains unsettled despite the numerous attempts to present a satisfying analysis (Moltman 2016, Farkas &de Swart 2010, Oliver & Smiley 2006, Yi 2005, 2006, Landman 2000, 1989a,b, Schwarzschild 1996, Link 1993, 1983, Krifka 1990, 1989, Schein 1986, Scha 1981, to name a few). The current discussion looks at a small part of this multi-faceted topic, namely the available readings of certain plural predicates. Gillon (1987) argues that certain plural predicates are ambiguous inrespect to the truth value of their minimal covers—i.e. sets of subsets ofpluralities, in which none of the subsets overlap with the sum of the others, and the sum of all subsets is equal to the plurality itself. While Gillon’s (1987) argument is logically sound, I present evidence that suggests that certain minimal covers are not immediately accessible interpretations of cumulative  predicates. Namely, following certain plural predicates, the lexical modifiers together and individually cannot be used in tandem to indicate which minimal cover of the predication is true. Following Gillon (1987), I assume these minimal covers must exist despite their inaccessibility, so the issue at hand is determining how they come to exist and why they are inaccessible from the initial interpretation of certain plural predicates. Landman’s (2000) analysis of events and plurality provides a multi-step process in which cumulative predicates are derived from covers. This analysis can be used to show how the interpretations of predicate that includes the relevant minimal covers come to exist, but leaves the inaccessibility of such covers unexplained. I propose that complex minimal covers are inaccessible because their derivation is simply too complex to process on-line. This explanation accounts for the infelicity of lexical modifiers, preserves the logic of minimal covers, and avoids the introduction of further devices into the account.


June 28, 2017

Mojmír Dočekal and Marcin Wągiel

Masaryk University, Czech Republic


Counting degrees and events: A cross-linguistic perspective


In this talk, we bring in novel data concerning distribution and semantic properties of two classes of adverbs of quantification in Czech, i.e., event numerals such as *dvakrát* ('twice/two times') as opposed to degree numerals such as *dvojnásobně* ('doubly/twofold'). We explore the contrasts between the expressions in question including the interaction with comparatives and equatives as well as scope asymmetries. Furthermore, we discuss their relationship with frequency adverbs and degree adverbs, respectively, as well as cross-linguistic variation including data from typologically distinct languages such as Vietnamese. We propose that degree numerals target values on a provided scale and are, hence, best analyzed as degree quantifiers resembling differentials whereas event numerals have a more general semantics which primarily allows for quantification over individuated events, but also enables to operate on degrees.


June 21, 2017

Éva Kardos

University of Debrecen, Hungary


Telicity across languages


This talk is concerned with how telicity arises across languages. More specifically, it offers a semantic take on the encoding and calculation of telicity and identifies two types of strategies in typologically such different languages as English, Hungarian and Slavic languages. It promotes the idea that telicity arises either (i) as a result of overt or covert maximalization over events, as in the case of most predicates in Hungarian and Slavic languages, or (ii) simply due to the co-occurrence of a verb encoding incremental change, a theme participant whose quantity is known, and a bounded path that is traversed in the course of the denoted event, as with most English verbal predicates (Kardos 2012, 2016). Important ways in which the languages under investigation differ is that they rely on these strategies to different extents, which has significant interpretational and morphosyntactic differences with respect to verbal predicates.


Following Filip and Rothstein (2006) and Filip (2008), I assume that telicity arises either as a result of a maximalization operator MAXE mapping sets of partially ordered events onto sets of maximal events. The application of MAXE is contingent on a verb assigning a figure-path incremental relation, a quantified theme DP, and a bounded path, an idea originating in Beavers (2012). Alternatively, telicity can also arise without maximalization over events with a verb assigning a figure path incremental role to a theme DP whose quantity is known and a bounded path since in these cases for any event that the verbal predicate describes, it does not describe any non-final subevent of that event. An important difference between the two processes is that the former leaves the predicate with quantized reference, and thus telicity is guaranteed, whereas in the latter case it is not a necessary consequence.


This is illustrated in Hungarian and Slavic languages, where event maximalization is encoded in particle verbs and perfective verbs. In English, where event maximalization is not necessary for telic interpretations in the case of most predicates, degree achievements like warm and cool are well-known for aspectual variability (Hay et al. 1999). Furthermore, in the case of predicates containing a particle verb or a perfective verb, which arguably encode event maximalization, the internal argument is semantically constrained in a way that the quantity of its referent must be known, and this satisfies a necessary condition for telicity (see above).


As for how the event maximalizing operator is encoded, there are different options to be explored. It is either the case that it is encoded covertly in VPs, as in some instances in English, or perfective verbs, as argued for by Filip (2008) in her analysis of Slavic languages, or that it is encoded overtly in perfective prefixes in Slavic languages or verbal particles in Hungarian. That particles and prefixes seem to systematically turn stative predicates into telic predicates in Hungarian and several Slavic languages may be taken as one piece of evidence for their being overt event maximalization/telicity markers.


Yet another question that is worth pursuing is whether bounded events must be marked in Slavic languages similarly to Hungarian. If this requirement holds, the expectation is that predicates that are inherently bounded (e.g. achievements like die and break a vase and degree achievements associated with an endpoint like empty the fridge and straighten the rope) must contain some marking element (e.g. a particle or a prefix). In Hungarian, this expectation is met, whereas in Slavic languages different patterns arise, making obligatory telicity marking suspicious (cf. Di Sciullo & Slabakova 2005).


June 14, 2017

Łukasz Jędrzejowski

University of Cologne


On (the diachrony of) jakoby-clauses in Polish


In this talk, I will examine the development and use of dependent clauses in Polish introduced by the complementizer jakoby (lit. ‘as if’) and show which factors in the lexical meaning of jakoby were responsible for the semantic change that it underwent.

            In the Old Polish example given in (1), the dependent clause is introduced by the hypothetical comparative complementizer jakoby (‘as if’) and it is embedded under the matrix predicate widzieć (‘seem’), expressing indirect inferential evidence:




































‘the people on earth interpreted it as if it wanted to slay all of them’

(KG, Kazanie I: Na Boże Narodzenie 26-7)


In Old Polish, jakoby-clauses can be embedded only under verbs of seeming. In other words, the structure seem as if p is used instead of seem that p if what the available evidence suggests is somehow in conflict with what the speaker believes or used to believe. In Present-day Polish, in turn, as illustrated in (2), the jakoby‑clause is embedded under the speech verb zaprzeczać (‘deny’):























‘The company denied that there supposedly were any reports about faulty prepaid cards.’

(NKJP, Dziennik Zachodni, 27/9/2006)


The complementizer jakoby is not interpreted as a hypothetical comparative conjunction as if any longer, but as a hearsay complementizer (Ňthat + allegedly). Interestingly, neither Czech nor Slovak have experienced this change.

            Based on Faller (2011) and Murray (2017), I will present account showing that the change of jakoby involved two main developments: First, the meaning of jakoby was broadened to allow for inferences from reportative information (compatible with, but not enforced by its seem-type embedding verbs). Second, the reportative flavor acquired by jakoby licensed its use in complements of speech verbs. Since these new contexts were no longer compatible with the original inferential meaning, they ultimately lead to the inability to use jakoby in its original contexts, cf. (3):













  Intended meaning: ‘It seems to the company as if …’




Faller, Martina (2011): A possible worlds semantics for Cuzco Quechua evidentials, in: Proceedings of SALT 20 ed. by Nan Li and David Lutz, eLanguage, 660‑683.

Murray, Sarah E. (2017): The Semantics of Evidentials. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


June 7, 2017

Stergios Chatzikyriakidis

University of Gothenburg


In defence of lost causes? Type Theories for Natural Language Semantics


In this talk, I will present an overview of the use of TTs for representing linguistic semantics. A historical overview is first given that covers in brief the history of type theory. Then, the discussion moves to the application of type theories, mostly type theories within the tradition of Martin Löf, to various issues in linguistic semantics like common nouns, modification, belief intensionality and copredication among others. Various alternatives are discussed when needed while the differences with simple type theory, which is the basis of Montague Grammar, are highlighted. Furthermore, the use of proof assistants implementing constructive type theories in dealing with Natural Language inference and checking the correctness of formal semantics accounts is discussed arguing that constructive type theories combined with the associated maturity in proof assistant technology can produce powerful reasoning engines and effective “semantic account checkers”. Lastly, I discuss the use of TTs within the new setting in computational linguistics, namely Deep Learning, trying to see its usefulness or not, and potential avenues of interaction between the two fields.


May 31, 2017

Natalia Gagarina

Leibniz-ZAS Berlin


Aspect (and other verb categories) in monolingual and bilingual acquisition


I trace the developmental projection of the acquisition of aspect (and other verb categories) in monolingual and bilingual children. Specifically, the goal is find out, how children use the verb morphology to gain access to syntactic structure and to identify differences in monolingual vs. (simultaneous and successive) bilingual acquisition. Working within the general framework of constructivism, I will show how the semantic structure of a predicate guides the acquisition of the tense/aspect and agreement morphology. 

Our methodology is called predicate tracking. Working within the lexicon of individual children, a predicate is identified and then the emergence of the verb morphology is tracked. Thus, the history of acquisition for each predicate is determined. Minimal morphological contrasts as evidence for the productivity of tense/aspect and agreement concepts are searched for. Prior research has shown a relatively consistent frequency pattern cross-linguistically where the following two configurations are highly probable: 1) telic verbs with past tense and bounded aspectual morphology, and 2) atelic verbs with non-past tense and unbounded aspectual morphology. This finding has prompted the argument that aspect emerges prior to tense in child language. According to some variations on the Principle and Parameters theme, this sequence is required by the principle of economy. Our research with the predicate tracking methodology indicates the following: 1) the precise pattern of acquisition is determined by the properties of lexical aspect, i.e., the logical structure of predicates, 2) the pattern varies cross-linguistically, and 3) deictic tense is likely to be productive prior to viewpoint aspect.


May 24, 2017

Leda Berio, Anja Latrouite, Robert Van Valin, Gottfried Vosgerau

Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf


Immediate and General Common Ground


The traditional literalist account of meaning has been challenged by several theories that stress the importance of context and of contextual information in communication, especially for mechanisms of meaning determination and reference fixing. However, the role of lexical meaning in such contextualist accounts often remains only vaguely defined. In this paper, we defend an account of communication that keeps the advantages of contextualist theories, while a new element is introduced that we claim could help solving some of the remaining issues. By differentiating Immediate and General Common Ground in communica- tion, we draw a distinction between mechanisms related to the situation at hand and those concerned with world and language knowledge. We further argue that such a distinction can help understanding cases of loose use and metaphors of which we provide some examples. Finally, we claim that this distinction has grammatical reality, as it is shown by the examples from Lakhota (North America), Umpithamu (Australia), Kuuk Thaayorre (Australia) and Mongsen Ao (India) discussed in the paper.


May 17, 2017

George Tsoulas 

University of York


How to pluralise a Mass noun: The ingredients


The relation between mass terms and plurals is well known and well supported empirically in terms, for example, of determiners that are common to the two classes of nominals to the exclusion of the singular.  At the same time it comes in general as a surprise that given the notion that mass terms as "somehow plural" they never show up in the plural.  From this point I look at a set of languages which do pluralise mass nouns and attempt to derive the possibility of plural mass terms.  The objective is to build a syntactic and semantic framework with as minimal assumptions as possible, within which they can naturally occur.  More specifically I look a the set of required morphosyntactic features, their position in the nominal extended projection and their associated semantics.  Then we try to understand where the points of variation lie and what sort of variation is predicted.    


May 3, 2017

Stefan Heim

Uniklinik RWTH Aachen & Forschungszentrum Jülich


If so many are "few", how few are "many"? The neurocognition of quantifier processing

The processing of quantifiers such as “many” or “few” is a complex operation, involving the estimation of the numerosities of objects, their comparison to a reference amount, and semantic evaluation of that comparison. This series of processing steps is supported by a fronto-parietal network predominantly in the left hemisphere. The criterion that defines a number of objects as e.g. “many” depends on the context (many pandas vs. many ants) and on personal experience (“many miles” for a long-distance runner vs. a person using crutches with a broken leg). I will report that this internal criterion can be modified in the course of a learning paradigm in which healthy young subjects can be trained to adapt their judgement of “many” from 60% to 40% of all circles. Most interestingly, changing the criterion for the quantifier “many” also leads to a change in the criterion for the untrained quantifier “few” (which contracts to about 25%). Broca’s region in the left inferior frontal cortex is essential for this learning effect and the generalization. This leads to the question of performance in patients with the behavioral variant of fronto-temporal dementia (FTD) who suffer from atrophy of their frontal cortices: Are they impaired in their semantic generalization capacity tested with this paradigm. To this end, FTD patients were compared to elderly healthy controls. The healthy controls learned the new criterion for "many", and this also affected their criterion for "few" even though the criterion for "few" had not been trained. In contrast, the FTD patients also showed a learning effect for the new criterion trained for the quantifier “many,” but failed to generalize this criterion shift to the other quantifier “few”. In line with the previous studies, these findings point at the central role of the left frontal cortex for semantic generalization. Since the patients were still able to perform the task and showed learning of “many” to direct feedback, the data suggest that the left frontal cortex is relevant for generalization of the meaning of semantic categories as an instance of cognitive flexibility. This generalization process, rather than initial learning, seems much more vulnerable to frontal degeneration. 


April 26, 2017

Kathrin Byrdeck & Kurt Erbach

Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf


Object Mass Nouns in Japanese


Classifier languages are commonly assumed not to have a grammaticized mass/countdistinction among nouns. In this talk we pursue two main goals. First, based on data from Japanese and some insights in Sudo (2016, forthcoming), and Inagaki & Barner (2009), we provide new empirical evidence that Japanese nouns for concepts like BOOK, DOG, SHOE (encoded by prototypical count nouns in languages with a grammaticized mass/count distinctions) and collective artifacts like MAIL, FURNITURE have individuated counting bases. We provide empirical evidence in support of the claim that Japanese nouns like yūbinbutsu (`mail’) have the hallmark properties of object mass nouns: (i) they are compared according to cardinality in `more than’ constructions (also Inagaki & Barner 2009), and (ii) they are infelicitous in constructions associated with count nouns. To the extent that the existence of object mass nouns can be established in the grammar of Japanese, as we argue, it follows that Japanese has grammatical reflexes of the mass/count distinction, rather than just exhibiting cognitive and grammatical reflexes of individuation (atomicity) alone. Second, we offer a new formal analysis of the Japanese mass/count distinction, building Sutton & Filip’s (2016) context-sensitivity driven account of the mass/count distinction, and specifically of object mass nouns. Our results bolster a nascent growing body of studies strongly suggesting that Japanese (and other classifier languages) in fact do have direct grammatical reflexes of the mass/count distinction.


April 19, 2017

Emar Maier

University of Groningen


Eventive vs. Evidential Speech Reports


In this talk I argue for a distinction between eventive and evidential speech reports. In eventive speech reports the at-issue contribution is the introduction of a speech event with certain properties. Typical examples include direct and free indirect speech. In evidential speech reports, by contrast, the fact that something was said is not at issue, but serves to provide evidence for the reported content. Typical examples include Quechua and Bulgarian reportative evidentials, Dutch and German reportative modals ('schijnen', 'sollen'), and the German reportive subjunctive. Following up on an observation by Von Stechow & Zimmermann (2005:fn.16), I argue that English indirect discourse is ambiguous. In the current framework this means it allows both an eventive reading, where a reported speech act is at issue, and an evidential reading, where it is backgrounded.


January 11, 2017

Dolf Rami

Georg-August Universität Göttingen


Names, Pronouns and Demonstratives as use-sensitive expressions


Kaplan famously distinguished between pure indexicals and true demonstratives. Nevertheless, he thought that these two kinds of expressions are only two subvarieties of the  same semantic kind, namely the kind of context-sensitive expressions. I will argue that Kaplan underestimated the significance of his distinction and that it is in fact a distinction in semantic kind. In my opinion, there are two different sorts of expressions whose reference  depends in different ways on the occasion of their use and which should semantically berepresented in different ways.  Firstly, there are context-sensitive expressions. The reference of these expressions depends on certain objective factors that constitute a context of use. These expressions have a Kaplanian character that determines their referent relative to a context of use. Examples of this kind are expressions like “I”, “now” and “today”. They all share the following feature: It is impossible that two different uses of an expression of these kind have different referents  relative to the same context of use. Formally they can be represented, as Kaplan did, by functions from contexts of use to intensions.  Secondly, there are use-sensitive expressions. These expressions are neither sensitive to any objective factors of a context of use nor can their linguistic meaning be conceive of as a character. These expressions can have anaphoric or referential uses. Some of them have bound and pragmatic anaphoric uses. The reference of such an expression is determined relative to a referential or pragmatic anaphoric use by accompanying referential intentions.  Uses of use-sensitive expressions are individuated by means of their accompanying  referential intentions. Formally use-sensitive expressions are represented as indexed  expressions that are semantically interpreted by means of an index-sensitive assignment  function. Different indexes correspond to different referential intentions. Co-referential use-sensitive expressions are semantically interpreted by means of indexed-assignment-functions with the same output. In this sense, the referent of a use-sensitive expression is determined by subject factors that are independent of the parameters of a context of use. The reference of use-sensitive expressions can additionally be constrained in some cases by the use-conditional meaning of such an expression. Use-conditional linguistic meanings can either be captured (a) as restrictions on indexed-assignment-functions or (b) as restrictions on the class of adequate possible uses of an expression. It is possible that any two different uses of an expression of these kind have different referents relative to the same or different contexts of use. Some use-sensitive expressions also have bound uses and their corresponding assignment functions can be shifted by the right sort of quantifiers. Bare demonstratives are use-sensitives expressions without an additional use-conditional meaning and they only have pragmatic anaphoric uses. Proper names are use-sensitives expressions with an additional use-conditional meaning that restricts the possible referents of a name to its bearer; but names only have pragmatic anaphoric uses. Third person personal pronouns are use- sensitives expressions with an additional use-conditional meaning that restricts the possible  referents of them to male or female individuals and they have both pragmatic and bound  anaphoric uses.


December 14, 2016

Ruth Kempson

King's College London


Language as Mechanisms for Interaction: the challenge of modelling dialogue


My task is to introduce and justify the formalism of Dynamic Syntax (DS), whose central claim is that natural languages are mechanisms for interaction, defined by grammars that articulate the online incremental process of growth of interpretation/linearisation underpinning both production and parsing. The talk will then argue that with this perspective, there is evidence that language evolution could have been possible without having to presume rich innateness, sudden-switch change, or prior availability of higher-order inferential capacities such as mind-reading. My starting point is to illustrate data from conversational dialogue which are a huge challenge for syntax and semantics models, since sentence-based grammars are not at all well suited to express the facts of  dialogue – and even for pragmatists, since dialogue dynamics provide  evidence that successful communication does not have to involve reading  others’ minds or grasping some propositional understanding to be shared.  Rather, what is essential is speaker/hearer interaction. Then I will give a sketch  of Dynamic Syntax sufficient to show how the dynamics of dialogue will  emerge as an automatic consequence of the framework as well as expressing  universal constraints on the process of structural growth. Finally I shall show  how the individual mechanisms that underpin anaphora, ellipsis, discontinuity  effects, and scope dependencies, can all be seen to be vehicles for  interaction, in virtue of generalisations across these phenomena which can  only be expressed in dynamic, interactive terms. 


December 7, 2016

Kurt Erbach

Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf


Bare singular nouns in Hungarian and the mass/count distinction


I argue for an analysis of Hungarian in which notional singular count nouns are semantically number neutral, and thus felicitous, with measure constructions and the WH-quantifier mennyi (‘what quantity of’). This provides an alternative analysis to Schvarcz (2016) and Schvarcz & Rothstein (2015) who analyze the majority of Hungarian notional count nouns as dual life—i.e. mass or count depending on the context. They assume könyv (‘book’) is mass with mennyi & measure constructions, but it is count in cardinality constructions. However, certain Hungarian constructions indicate bare singular count nouns are interpreted as number neutral. Furthermore, measure constructions sanction the occurrence of mass and bare plural count nouns but disallow singular count nouns (Krifka 1989, Landman 2016). Following Landman (2016) allows a more straightforward analysis that shows the Hungarian nominal system is more like other mass/count languages has been previously thought.



November 30, 2016

Todor Koev

Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf


Adverbs of Change, Aspect, and Anaphoricity


Adverbs of change, such as quickly or slowly, have been known to give rise to a number of interpretations. A sentence like Kazuko ran to the store quickly can describe the intensity of the described action (a manner reading), the temporal extent of the entire event (a duration reading), or the time between the culmination of the event and some previous event (an anaphoric reading). It has also been noticed that available interpretations are sensitive to thelexical aspect of the verbal predicate; for example, The police quickly spotted the suspect is only compatible with an anaphoric reading for quickly. Existing accounts of adverbs of change (e.g. Cresswell 1978; Rawlins 2013) take manner readings as primary and successfully extend these to duration readings, but struggle to derive anaphoric readings. In contrast, I take anaphoric readings as primary and argue that other readings are special cases of these. Adverbs of change are claimed to modify the temporal distance between two instantaneous events that are compositionally or anaphorically available. The proposed account, couched in a dynamic semantic framework, does particularly well in predicting anaphoric interpretations and demonstrates how adverbs of change interact with lexical aspect to derive other available readings. It also correctly predicts certain positional effects and can accommodate the idiosyncratic behavior of adverbs like slowly, which appears to lack truly anaphoric interpretations.


November 23, 2016

Maria Spychalska

Ruhr University of Bochum


Scalar implicatures in context of full and partial information: Evidence from ERPs


A major part of the psycholinguistic research on scalar implicatures has been focused on the question of how scalar implicatures are generated: in a default and automatic manner or as results of effortful reasoning processes. This so-called default- vs. context-based controversy has been experimentally operationalized in terms of processing costs of scalar implicatures: the processing costs have been taken as a proxy of the implicature’s default vs. non-default character. Yet, it has eventually become evident that the data hardly fit this dichotomy. Many studies on the processing of scalar implicatures brought contrastive results: some experiments provided evidence that the processing of the pragmatically enriched interpretation is costly relative to the processing of the semantic meaning, other studies found no additional cost for the processing of scalar implicatures.  It was further shown by Degen & Tannenahus (2015) that scalar implicatures may be differently processed depending on contextual support: in contexts that support the pragmatic interpretation, scalar implicatures will occur as default and automatic, whereas when the contextual support is weaker, listeners will take longer to arrive at the inference. This results were integrated within a probabilistic model of linguistic processing, called constraint-based account and predicting that interlocutors may use information from multiple sources during sentence comprehension to create expectations about the future development of the utterance.  In my talk I will present results from EEG studies on scalar implicatures processing arguing in favor of the constraint-based model. Comparing results from two studies: where the scalar implicature processing was tested in context of full information and in context of partial information, I will discuss how the contextual support may determine the cognitive costs of the implicature processing.


November 16, 2016

Willy Geuder

Heinrich Heine University


Manner adverbs, agentive adverbs, and adverbs in between

I would like to discuss with you some questions that relate to the distinction of different semantic adverb types and their frame-based analyses. First, I present a brief sketch of a frame-semantic approach to manner modification, which allows us to distinguish manner adverbs from other types of event-related adverbs, hence going beyond the characterisation of manner adverbs as "predicates of events". Then, I discuss so-called "agentive adverbs" (Geuder 2002) (like "stupidly" in "The defender stupidly passed back"), arguing that they may be seen essentially as "predicates of events", too, but involving a different relation to an e-variable, compared with manner adverbs. I explore the possibility that their non-restrictive function, agent orientation and scope-taking behaviour can be understood on the basis of their lexical meaning as "abstract" properties of events, i.e. involving a constitution relation between concrete and abstract event descriptions, inspired by recent work of SĺbŅ (2016).


November 9, 2016

Christian Wurm

Heinrich Heine University


The algebra of ambiguity


We present an algebraic approximation to the semantic content of linguistic ambiguity. Starting from the class of ordinary Boolean algebras, we add to it an ambiguity operator and a small set of (rather peculiar) axioms which we think are correct for linguistic ambiguity beyond doubt. We then show some important, non-trivial results that follow from this axiomatization, which turn out to be surprising and not fully satisfying from a linguistic point of view. The results leave us with some open questions, both on the linguistic algebraic side – like the nature of intention in ambiguous statements, or the properties of disjunctive axioms in universal algebra.


July 20, 2016

Barbara Tomaszewicz

Universität zu Köln


Focus association in sentence processing


The focus structure of a sentence reflects the discourse context, but in the presence of various operators, such as only, even and most, it has an effect on the truth-conditions or the presuppositions of the sentence. Stolterfoht et al. (2007) and Carlson (2013) showed that only facilitates the processing of focus structures during silent reading. When (1) is read without preceding context, the first conjunct receives a wide focus interpretation (marked as FI), and when the processor encounters the ellipsis remnant (F2), it must revise the focus structure of the first conjunct from wide to matching narrow focus (F3). The presence of only in (2) requires narrow focus on its associate (FI), which is congruous with the ellipsis remnant. Revision of the focus structure in (1) vs. (2) was associated with an ERP signature in the Stolterfoht et al. study on German, and with increased reading times in Carlson’s self-paced reading study on English.


1) [Am Dienstag hat der Direktor [den Schüler]F3 getadelt]F1, und nicht [den Lehrer]F2

    On Tuesday has the principal.Nom the pupil.Acc criticized and not the teacher.Acc


2) Am Dienstag hat der Direktor nur [den Schüler]F1 getadelt, und nicht [den Lehrer]F2

    On Tuesday has the principal.Nom only the pupil.Acc criticized and not the teacher.Acc


Since ‘only x ... and not y’ is frequent in discourse, the presence of only could create an expectation for an explicit mention of excluded alternatives, and this bias alone could account for the facilitation in (2). In self-paced reading experiments on Polish we showed that the processing of replacive ellipsis ( ‘and not ... ’ ) is facilitated in the presence of the three associators: only, even, most, which indicates that it is indeed the focus association mechanism that explains the facilitation in (2) (Tomaszewicz and Pancheva (2016)). The use of Polish allowed us for a direct comparison between only, even and most, because (i) like in German replacive ellipsis is unambiguous due to Accusative case marking, and therefore any differences in ellipsis resolution can be attributed to the processing of focus structure alone; (ii) with most the focus on ‘sculptors’ yields a superlative reading that is unavailable in English or German (in Pancheva and Tomaszewicz (2012) and Tomaszewicz (2015) we argue that this reading arises via focus association).


We found that in Polish only, even and most create an expectation for narrow focus on the object, but the facilitatory effects occur already on the conjunct ‘and not’ with only and even, and on the ellipsis remnant with most. This difference likely reflects the difference between two types of focus association: obligatory and optional as identified in the formal semantic research on focus. Obligatory focus association is taken to be encoded in the lexical semantics of focus sensitive expressions (only, even), whereas optional/free association is a result of the contextual setting of the domain variable of an operator like most (Beaver and Clark (2009)). While prenominai only and even have one syntactic associate (3), most is free to associate either with the adverbial or the subject in English (4a-b), or with the object in Polish (5).


3)a. John invited only/even [sculptors]F for coffee.

b. *John invited only/even sculptors [for coffee]F


4)a. John invited the most sculptors [for coffee]F.

Reading: John invited more sculptors for coffee than for any other relevant occasion,


b. [John]F invited the most sculptors for coffee. Reading: John invited more sculptors for coffee than for any other relevant individual did.


5) John zaprosił najwięcej [rzeźbiarzy]F na kawę. John invited most sculptors for coffee

Reading: John invited more sculptors for coffee than any other group of people that he invited.


During incremental processing prenominai only and even create a precise expectation for the location of focus, but most allows association with either the object or the adverbial in Polish, which is compatible with our results. Currently, we are extending these findings to meisten in German, which like English most does not allow association with the object, to show that optional associators facilitate the processing of focus structures that are compatible with the semantics resulting from focus association (and that it is not the case that the mere presence of a prenominai modifier increases the salience of the contrast in the replacive ellipsis).


July 6, 2016

Noortje Venhuizen

Universität des Saarlandes


Projection in Discourse: A data-driven formal semantic analysis


In this talk, I present a unified, data-driven formal semantic analysis of projection phenomena, which include presuppositions, anaphoric expressions, and conventional implicatures (as defined by Potts, 2005). The different contributions made by these phenomena are explained in terms of the notion of information status. Based on this analysis, I present a new semantic formalism called Projective Discourse Representation Theory (PDRT). PDRT is an extension of traditional Discourse Representation Theory (Kamp, 1981; Kamp and Reyle, 1993), which directly implements the anaphoric theory of presuppositions (van der Sandt, 1992) by means of the introduction of projection variables. I show that PDRT captures the differences, as well as the similarities between the contributions made by presuppositions, anaphora and conventional implicatures. In order to illustrate PDRT's representational power, I present a data-driven computational analysis of the information status of referential expressions based on data from the Groningen Meaning Bank; a corpus of semantically annotated texts (Basile et al., 2012).  Taken together, the results pave way for a more integrated formal and empirical analysis of different aspects of linguistic meaning.


June 29, 2016

Markus Schrenk

Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf


Causal Power and Modality as Stumbling Stones

for a Semantic Analysis of Dispositional Predicates


Attempts to give a semantic analysis of dispositional predicates (like “solubility", “inflammability”, etc.) in terms of (counterfactual) conditionals (for example: “if x were put in water it would dissolve”) saw a plethora of counterexamples: void satisfaction, random coincidences, masks, finks, antidotes, etc. Already on the (semantic/logical) surface the reasons for failure are pretty obvious. Yet, there are also some deeper (metaphysical) reasons – Causal Power and Modality – that can be unearthed. In this talk I will go through all the above.


June 22, 2016

Ekaterina Rakhilina

Higher School of Economics, Department of Linguistics, Moscow


A Typology of Falling Events


Falling is a kind of quite standard motion event with Source, Goal and a special manner of motion which is usually reduced to the up-down (vertical) axis. The talk shows that  there are other semantic characteristics which build semantic oppositions within the domain of falling and trigger its metaphorical extensions.


June 15, 2016
Laura Kallmeyer & Behrang Qasemi Zadeh

Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf


The PoP approach to vector semantics

Vector semantics represents the meaning of a word by characterizing its distribution. More concretely, word meanings are represented by distributional vectors where the dimensions of these vectors denote context words and the coordinates are determined by the frequency of these context words in the neighbourhood of the word that the vector characterizes. Notions of similarity and distance between vectors can then be used to infer similarity of meaning between words.

The use of vector space models, however, is problematic due to the high dimensionality of these vectors and due to the fact that co-occurrence patterns often follow what is known as heavy-tailed distribution (as exemplified by the Zipfian distribution of words in documents). For instance, while a few words frequently occur in text (thus co-occur with other words, such as the function word “the”), many content words occur rarely. Consequently, as the number of vectors/entities increases, the number of co-occurring context elements (i.e., the dimensionality ofvectors) escalates.

In this talk, we first describe principles of vector semantics including the above-mentioned problems. We then introduce a new technique called positive-only projections (PoP) that address the problem of high dimensionality. PoP allows to build vectors at a fixed reduced dimensionality and in an incremental fashion. We report the performance of PoP method in two semantic similarity measurement tasks: TOEFL synonym test and MEN relatedness. In both tasks, PoP shows a performance comparable to state-of-the-art neural embedding techniques. 


June 8, 2016

Suzi Lima

Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro


Portions, individuation and measurement


Container nouns (cup) are nouns that denote concrete objects that can be used as receptacles for substances. It has been argued that in constructions with numerals (as in ‘two glasses of water’), container phrases can be interpreted in at least two different ways (Selkirk 1977, Rothstein 2012, Partee and Borschev 2012). Firstly, a container noun can be used to denote actual containers filled with some substance; e.g. ‘glasses of water’ can denote actual glasses filled with some quantity of water (individuation). Secondly, a container noun can be used as the description of a unit of measurement.

Based on the results of a felicity judgment task with children and adults with Brazilian Portuguese, English and Yudja, it will be argued that individuation precedes measure. Second, unlike in English, container phrases in Yudja can be interpreted as locatives or trigger a concrete portion interpretation that is different from measure. Similar results were found for Brazilian Portuguese when the question included a prepositional phrase (Eu bebi dois copos com água ‘I drank two cups with water’) as opposed to pseudopartitive constructions (Eu bebi dois copos de água ‘I drank two cups of water’).


June 1, 2016

Jens Fleischhauer

Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf


Animacy and affectedness (in Germanic languages)

Most Germanic languages (English is an exception in this regard) show an animacy-dependent marking alternation of the second argument of contact verbs such as hit, kick or pinch. This is illustrated by the German examples in (1). If the referent of the second argument is inanimate, it is marked by a preposition (1b).


  (1)  a.  Das  Mädchen  schlug  den  Jungen.   
    the  girl  hit  the  boy   
    ‘The girl hit the boy.’ 
  b.  Das  Mädchen  schlug  *(gegen/auf)  den  Tisch. 
    the  girl  hit     against/on  the  table 
    ‘The girl hit against/on the table.’ 
The alternation shown in (1) is not solely dependent on animacy but also on affectedness. If the referent  of  the  inanimate  is  definitely  affected  by  the  contact  –  for  example  in  case  of  a resultative construction - , it is not marked by a preposition (2).  
(2)  Das  Mädchen  schlug  (*gegen/auf)  den  Tisch  in Stücke. 
  the  girl  hit    against/on  the  table  in pieces 
  ‘The girl hit the table in pieces.’ 

Lundquist & Ramchand (2012) argue that inanimate entities are conceived as less affected by processes such as hitting or kicking than animate entities are. de Swart (2014), on the other hand, argues that the alternation marks a difference in sentience. As sentience presupposes animacy, the animacy contrast is merely epiphenomenal. Both analyses have shortcomings: de Swart’s analysis does not rely on affectedness and therefore cannot explain the contrast between (1b) and (2). Lundquist & Ramchand’s analysis is couched in the generative framework and they define affectedness as a binary feature. Their analysis does not give a principal explanation of why it is only a subset of contact verbs that gives rise to the alternation illustrated in (1). 


An explanation of them  phenomenon  requires two things: First, a graded concept of affectedness, like the one proposed by Beavers (2011). Beavers notion of affectedness provides an explanation of why contact verbs show an alternation dependent on affectedness. According to him, these verbs entail potential results and the alternation can be seen as a resolution of this potentiality. If the referent of the second argument is animate, it is conceived as affected. If it is inanimate, it is taken to be non-affected. Second, an explication of the relationship between affectedness and animacy is needed. Lundquist & Ramchand argue that inanimate entities are only affected, if they are physically damaged. Beside physical affectedness, animate beings can also be emotionally/psychologically affected. This allows combining the basis insights of Lundquist & Ramchand’s analysis with the one of de Swart’s.


The aim of the talk is to present a unified analysis of the phenomenon, which combines a  gradual notion of affectedness  with the notion of sentience. It will  be shown that such an approach allows explaining why the alternation arises with this particular set of verbs. Furthermore, the analysis will shed light on the relationship between affectedness and animacy.


May 25, 2016

Karoly Varasdi & Zsofia Gyarmathy

Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf


A model of evidence and an evidence-based analysis of progressive achievements

In our talk, we are going to outline a lattice-theoretic model of evidence and an evidence-based approach to progressive achievements. Our starting point is that an agent is justified in asserting a progressive sentence if the agent has enough evidence supporting the base sentence in that specific scenario. In our framework, evidence for a proposition is that which justifies the speaker in asserting the proposition. We will argue that the set of all potential pieces of evidence ordered by containment form a lattice, and is connected with the lattice of propositions in a specific way based on the notion of (partial) justification. We will show how this evidence-based framework can be used to predict felicitous progressive uses of achievements, such as "Mary is arriving at the station" and still exclude unacceptable progressive achievements like "*Mary is noticing the picture". To this end, we exploit the fact that sentence entailment and evidence containment go in opposite directions in our framework and that achievements that can appear in the progressive are those that describe the right boundaries of extended events.


May 4, 2016

Zsofia Gyarmathy

Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

Achievements and presuppositions

This session will include i) a presentation of a theoretical idea about the activity presupposition of a subclass of Vendler's achievements (called culminations by Bach 1986), ii) outlining some ideas for three experiments to test the theoretical assumptions, and iii) an open discussion where I would be happy to hear comments and feedback especially about the experimental design. The basic theoretical idea I propose is that culminations like win or arrive have an existential presupposition that is of a hitherto not recognized kind that I call an extra soft presupposition, which is cancellable even when the trigger is not embedded under any operators, but is more similar to presuppositions than implicatures in other respects.

April 27, 2016

Daniel Lassiter

Stanford University


Time: 16:30-18:00

Location: Building 24.91. Room 01.22 


Must, might, knows, and the rest of the epistemic system


Linguists and philosophers have long been torn between the intuition that must is 'weak' – expressing reduced commitment vis-a-vis the unqualified expression – and the intuition that it expresses some fairly strong epistemic relation, such as knowledge. Recently von Fintel & Gillies (2010) have argued that the latter hunch is correct – must picks out a strong epistemic necessity modal ą la modal logic S5 – and that the intuition of weakness can be explained by reference to a little-noticed evidential meaning component of must. Using corpus and experimental data I'll show that must does not express knowledge, certainty, or anything of this form: speakers routinely use must to mark out a proposition when they are explicitly uncertain about the truth of p, say that they do not know p, and consider not-p a possibility. The experimental results also illuminate the relationship between might and epistemic possible, which are (contrary to the usual assumption) not synonymous. I'll discuss the implications of these results for a variety of epistemic items, arguing that they problematize Kratzer's (1991) influential proposal as well and favor a theory where epistemic modals are given a semantics built around the probabilistic support of a proposition.


April 21, 2016

Todor Koev

Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

Countability and the Diminutive in Bulgarian


This technical report briefly explores the count/mass distinction in Bulgarian. It pays particular attention to diminutive modification and its ability to achieve a mass-to-count shift when applied nouns that describe granular aggregates.



April 14, 2016

Michael Daniel

National Research University, Moscow

Higher School of Economics

Centre for Fundamental Studies / Laboratory of the Caucasian Languages


Mass and Class:

Number, nominal classes and mass nouns in East Caucasian


In many ways, East Caucasian languages manifest a complex interaction between the categories of grammatical number and gender as nominal classification. One obvious example of such interaction is that the inventory of nominal classes in the singular (usually three to five classes) is reduced to only two classes in the plural – human vs. non-human. Not less important, though probably somewhat less salient, is the treatment of mass nouns as P(luralia) T(antum). Thus, in Dargwa languages, mass nouns show non-human plural agreement. That mass nouns are PT is, of course, by no means typologically unexpected. What is peculiar is that the mass nouns show this agreement though being morphologically singular, while, at least for some of them, morphologically plural forms are also available. Similar but more complex is the situation in Archi, an outlier of the Lezgic branch of the family. In Archi, mass nouns are usually described as fourth class (singular). Incidentally, agreement pattern for this class is identical to non-human plural. Many of these nouns show plural inflectional morphology. This morphology is however not consistent and is coupled with singular agreement on the attributes. I suggest that mismatches between morphology and agreement are explained by a more general morphosyntactic property of East Caucasian languages that do not ascribe agreement pattern to a lexical item as a whole but do this separately to its singular and plural forms, and that the ascription is governed not only by lexicon but is partly driven by semantics of the respective morphologically singular and plural forms.



February 10, 2016

Simon Dobnik

University of Gothenburg


Interfacing Language, Spatial Perception and Cognition in Type Theory with Records

In the proposed presentation we overview and connect two lines of our work related to Type Theory with Records (TTR): modelling of spatial language and cognition and modelling of attention-driven judgement. We argue that computational modelling of perception, action, language, and cognition introduces several requirements on a formal semantic theory and its practical implementations: (i) interfacing discrete conceptual knowledge and continuous real-valued sensory readings; (ii) information fusion of knowledge from several modalities; (iii) dynamic adaptation of semantic representations/knowledge as agents experience new situations through linguistic interaction and perception. Using examples of semantic representations of spatial descriptions we show how Type Theory with Records satisfies these requirements. The advantage of truth being based on agent-relative judgements in TTR is crucial in this but practically it comes with a computational cost. However, this challenge is not unique to TTR. An agent would have to check whether a situation s is of every type in its inventory. In the second part of the talk we argue that the number of type judgements an agent has to make can be minimised by incorporating a cognitive notion of judgement that is driven by perceptual attention.




January 27, 2016

Fabienne Martin
Stuttgart University


The imperfective in subjunctive conditionals: fake or real aspect?


This talk aims to provide a 'real aspect' approach of the 'fake' imperfective in subjunctive conditionals (SCs) and a new account of the (non)-cancellability of the counterfactual inference in SCs, largely based on Ippolito’s 2013. It is argued that PAST and PRES above MODAL in conditionals compete the same way as in non-modal stative sentences, see Altshuler and Schwarzschild 2012. On this view, the counterfactual inference of SCs, when cancellable, is nothing else than the cessation implicature routinely triggered by past stative sentences.




January 20, 2016

Fred Landman

Tel Aviv University and University of Tübingen 


Aspects of Event Semantics for Aspect

Note that this is more a tutorial on aspects of my work on event semantics than a lecture.
1. Event models based on a discourse pragmatic notion of cross-temporal identity of events and the notion of event stages.
2. Homogenenous eventuality types.  Homogeneity for statives,
Incremental homogeneity for activities and the semantics of 'for an hour'.
3. Telicity, stabalization, and the semantics of 'in an hour'.
4. Stativity operators: a new proposal for the perspective operators of "1066" paper).
5. Scalarity and the perfect/progressive (in  "1066" paper)



January 13, 2016

Todor Koev
Heinrich-Heine University


Parentheticality and Discourse

Sentences with slifting parentheticals (e.g. *The dean, Susan said, flirted with the secretary*) span the divide between semantics and pragmatics because in them the main clause plays a central role while the slifting parenthetical describes the grounds for asserting the main clause (cf. Urmson 1952; Hooper 1975; Asher 2000; Rooryck 2001; Jayez & Rossari 2004; Davis et al. 2007; Simons 2007; Scheffler 2009; Haddican et al. 2014). In this talk, I discuss three core properties of sentences with slifting parentheticals:


(i) the backgrounded status and projection/scopal properties of implications triggered by slifting parentheticals,

(ii) the often weakened assertion strength of the main clause,

(iii) the requirement that slifting parentheticals create an upward-entailing environment (cf. #*The dean, Susan doubts, flirted with the secretary*).


I will argue against the idea that the main clause is interpreted in the scope of the slifting predicate. Rather, I suggest that the strength of the main clause depends in a quasi-pragmatic way on the slifting parenthetical, as the latter can lower the assertability threshold for the main clause. I will also try to derive the informational properties and the polarity restrictions on slifting parentheticals from their role as providing grounds for the main claim of the sentence.



December 9, 2015

Paul Gaus
Heinrich-Heine University


Result States in the Perfect Time Span - Combination of two Theories of the Perfect


The Perfect Time Span approach (PTS) is an approach which tries to capture perfect meanings by locating the Reichenbachian Event Time (E) within a time span. I found that in German certain accomplishment constructions cannot be captured by this approach. In this thesis I will show a solution to this problem by combining the PTS approach with the so called Result State approach. My modi
cation of the PTS approach no longer predicts E within a time span but the onset of the result state of the eventuality which takes place at E. This allows the problematic construction to be predicted, in addition to the non-problematic constructions. Further I will discuss the result state approach and show that this approach also needs time spans to predict certain meanings which brings me to the claim that a combination of both theories is desirable because it has a better empirical coverage.



December 3, 2015

Todor Koev

Heinrich Heine University


Appositive Projection and Its Exceptions


This paper has two major goals. The first is to offer a comprehensive account of the projection properties of appositive constructions. Appositives posit a challenge to traditional assumptions about form and meaning because they are interpreted in situ with respect to order-dependent phenomena like discourse anaphora but nevertheless escape the scope of entailment-canceling operators like negation or modals. Accounting for this pattern requires an innovative way of looking at propositional operators and how they interact with appositives. The second goal of the paper is to address various claimed exceptions to the otherwise robust projectivity of appositives. I argue that in some cases the construction under consideration is most likely not an appositive at all. In other cases, the observed non-speaker-oriented readings can be derived by pragmatic reasoning or are due to a perspective shift. Although genuine instances of semantically embedded appositives do seem to exist, I point out that such data have a limited empirical scope. I conclude that appositive projection is a pervasive phenomenon and is part and parcel of the semantics of appositives.



November 25, 2015

Peter Sutton and Hana Filip

Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf


Mass/Count Variation: A Mereological 2d Supervaluationist Semantics


We propose a novel analysis of the mass/count distinction, within a new framework: 2-dimensional mereological supervaluationism. While the notions akin to VAGUENESS [1], SEMANTIC ATOMICITY [4] and OVERLAP [3] are needed to ground this distinction, no single notion is sufficient to fit the whole range of data, especially intra- and crosslinguistic variation in mass [-C] vs. count [+C] encoding. We make this variation tractable by treating it as following from the interaction of all three of the above notions. We formally derive four semantic classes of nouns (which closely match those in [2]) to explain these form-denotation mappings and overcome challenges faced by [1; 3; 4].



[1] Chierchia, G., 2010. Mass nouns, vagueness & semantic variation. Synth. 174, 99-149.

[2] Grimm, S., 2012. Number & Individuation. PhD Diss., Stanford University.

[3] Landman, F., 2011. Count nouns, Mass nouns, Neat nouns, Mess nouns. In: The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition: Vol. 6. pp. 1-67.

[4] Rothstein, S., 2010. Counting & the mass/count distinction. JoS 27 (3), 343-397.



November 19, 2015

Susan Rothstein

Bar Ilan University (Israel) & Tübingen University


Object mass nouns from a crosslinguistic perspective


Rothstein 2010, Schwarzschild 2011 show that nouns like furniture denote sets of individuable entities. Barner and Snedeker (2005) show further that comparisons such as who has more furniture? typically are answered by comparing cardinalities. On this basis they suggest that object mass nouns have essentially the same denotations as count nouns. In the first part of the talk, I will show that the conclusions drawn by Barner and Snedeker (2005) are too strong: while comparisons of object mass nouns may involve comparing cardinalities, they need not do so. There is thus a basic contrast between object mass nouns and count nouns: count nouns require comparison by cardinality while object mass nouns allow it, but also allow comparisons along other, continuous dimensions. I will support this with data from English, Brazilian Portuguese, Hungarian and Mandarin. This means that object mass nouns and count nouns must have different semantic interpretations, contra e.g. Bale and Barner (2009). But whatever semantics we give for object mass and count nouns, we need to answer the obvious question: If object mass nouns are not countable, how can they be compared in terms of cardinality? In the second part of the talk, I offer a solution to this problem, proposing that there are cardinality scales, which allow us to evaluate and compare quantities in terms of their perceived or estimated number of atomic parts without actually counting the atoms. This allows us to clarify the distinction between counting and measuring, and to maintain the general principle that only count nouns have countable denotations.



November 11, 2015

Henk Zeevat

Heinrich Heine University


Presupposition Blocking by Causal Inference


The talk develops an account of causal inferences in update semantics. A typical case would be the inference of a causal relation in:


When John pushed the button, the bomb exploded.


While cause inferences have many applications, the talk applies it to presupposition projection. It shows that the effects of Karttunen's satisfaction theory are better captured by causal inferences than by the logical satisfaction relation employed by Karttunen. E.g. blocking is not predicted by satisfaction in:


If Marie is French, she has stopped eating snails.


It is after all just false that every French person eats snails. But there is a plausible causal inference that being French can lead to eating snails. In:


If John has grandchildren, his children are happy.


most people infer that John has children, contra the satisfaction theory. And of course, children are the cause of grandchildren and not inversely.The talk also adds a new class of presupposition blocking that is unreducible to the satisfaction theory, based on identity inferences.



November 4, 2015

Rainer Osswald

Heinrich Heine University


Quantification in Frame Semantics with Hybrid Logic