Construction of Meaning Workshop Today (10/24) at 3:30PM: Scontras

Today (October 24) at 3:30 in the Greenberg Room, Greg Scontras (Stanford Psychology) will speak at the Construction of Meaning Workshop. The talk will be followed by a Friday social.

A new kind of degree

In this talk, I present a case study of the English noun amount, a word that ostensibly relies on measurement in its semantics, yet stands apart from other quantizing nouns on the basis of its EXISTENTIAL interpretation. John ate the amount of apples that Bill ate does not mean John and Bill ate the same apples, but rather that they each ate apples in the same quantity. Amount makes reference to abstract representations of measurement, that is, to degrees. Its EXISTENTIAL interpretation evidences the fact that degrees contain information about the objects that instantiate them. Outside the domain of nominal measurement, the noun kind exhibits behavior strikingly similar to that of amount; both yield an EXISTENTIAL interpretation (Carlson, 1977). This observation motivates re-conceiving of degrees as nominalized quantity-uniform properties – the same sort of entity as kinds. Thus, the semantic machinery handling kinds also handles degrees (e.g., Derived Kind Predication; Chierchia, 1998): As nominalized properties, degrees are instantiated by objects that hold the corresponding property; when instantiated by real-world objects, degrees (and kinds) deliver the EXISTENTIAL interpretation.

Dissertation oral Monday, November 3: Djalali

The Department of Linguistics is pleased to announce a dissertation oral presentation by Alex Djalali:
On adjectival comparatives Monday, November 3, 2014, 2pm-3:15pm
Margaret Jacks Hall, Rm 126

The syntax and semantics of adjectival comparatives like (1a) are complicated matters that have concerned both syntacticians and semanticists for at least 100 years.

(1) a. Orcutt is taller than Smith (is)
(1) b. The maximal degree of height Orcutt possesses is greater than the maximal degree of height Smith possesses

It is generally agreed that (1a) is a suitable paraphrase of the meaning of (1b), which suggests, both implicitly and explicitly, that any formal syntactico-semantic analysis of adjectival comparatives should make reference to (at least) the notions of degrees, scales, and measures. The path I will pursue in this dissertation takes each of the aforementioned concepts seriously but moves away from standardly assumed degree-based analyses like Seuren (1973), von Stechow (1984), Heim (1985), Kennedy (1997) and Heim (2006) (to name just a few) to a more Cresswellilan-one (Cresswell 1976).

This might seem odd, if only because recent work like Kennedy (1997) can also be understood in a Cresswellilan-light. However, there are many aspects of Cresswell’s (1976) proposal–philosophical and formal–and in the work presented here, degrees themselves will not be understood as proper objects in my semantic ontology. If degrees exist at all, they will be understood as real numbers necessary only when considering a small sub-class of comparative constructions. I will argue that, in making such a move, one gets a better and more general treatment of the syntax and semantics of adjectival comparatives in the form of, what I take to be at least, a transparent albeit Spartan semantic representation language that makes no use of various misbehaved covert operators at the level of logical form that are traditionally present in the various semantic analysis of adjectival comparatives considered here. I will show that, even under the assumption of such minimal representations, my analysis gets the semantic facts involving adjectival comparatives right.

(The format for this open part of the oral exam is a 30-45 minute talk by the PhD candidate followed by questions from those attending, for a total of no more than 75 minutes.   Please arrive promptly!)

Oral exam committee: Cleo Condoravdi and Chris Potts (Co-advisors), Dan Lassiter, Beth Levin
University oral exam chair: Thomas Icard (Philosophy)

Colloquium Next Friday (10/31) at 3:30PM: Campbell-Kibler

Our next colloquium speaker will be Kathryn Campbell-Kibler (Ohio State), at 3:30PM on Wed, Oct 31 in the Greenberg room.

Reducing sociolinguistic cognition to previously unsolved problems

More than half a century of research in language variation and related fields has documented speakers’ ability to alter small details of their speech to conform to or agentively change the social elements of an interaction. Likewise, listeners are able to note these speech patterns and use them to form or change their social reading of a situation. These abilities apply both to linguistic forms speakers can verbally describe or even manipulate on command, and to those they cannot. In this talk I discuss the cognitive structures necessary to accomplish these feats. I consider the history of the sociolinguistic monitor, variation’s most developed model, and discuss its shortcomings in light of current evidence. I propose that sociolinguistic cognition requires no specialized cognitive machinery, rather its patterns are explainable by independently motivated structures of linguistic and social cognition and their interactions. Given that linguistic and social processing are both as yet not fully understood, the study of sociolinguistic cognition can help illuminate their structure by examining their interactions. To do so successfully, both the linguistic and the social must be centered.

Berkeley Colloquium Monday (10/27) at 3:10PM: Epps

Next Monday at 3:10PM, The UC Berkeley Department of Linguistics presents a colloquium by Patience L. Epps (UT Austin). The talk will take place in 370 Dwinelle Hall on the Berkeley campus.

Contact and diversity: Tracing multilingual interaction in Amazonian prehistory

While efforts to understand global patterns of linguistic diversity have explored a wide range of nonlinguistic correlates, associations with sociocultural patterns have generally tended to assume a correspondence between linguistic diversity and a lack of contact among groups. In this talk, I develop the hypothesis that the maintenance of extensive linguistic diversity in the Amazon basin has in fact been widely grounded in the dynamics of interaction among groups, as opposed to being simply a factor of isolation (Epps forthcoming). I focus here on linguistic evidence for contact, drawing on an extensive survey of lexical and grammatical features across dozens of Amazonian languages. An evaluation of patterns of lexical borrowing, Wanderwörter, and grammatical diffusion suggests that multilingual interaction has been widespread in native Amazonia, facilitated by particular activities such as trade, intermarriage, and participation in networks of ritual practice.

Fieldwork Workshop Meeting Wednesday (10/29) at 2:30PM

Join the Fieldwork Workshop in the Ivan Sag room at 2:30 next Wednesday as they welcome Terrence Kaufman, renowned American Indian fieldworker recently returned from Brazil!

All are welcome!

Look Who’s Talking!

We already announced the large crop of Stanford presentations at NWAV 43 this week, but we missed one important piece (sorry John!):

  • John Rickford will be speaking as part of a tribute to Walt Wolfram on the occasion of Wolfram winning North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the North Carolina Medal.

Lelia Glass will present “Corpus evidence for systematicity in compounds” (joint work with Beth Levin and Dan Jurafsky) at the Berkeley Syntax Circle on October 31.

Dan Jurafsky will present “Macaroon, Macaron, Macaroni: The Secret Language of Food” at the Gunn-SIEPR Building today from 3:15 to 4:15 as part of the Reunion Homecoming Festivities.

Vera Gribanova will present “Discourse-driven head movement, VSO and ellipsis in Russian” at NELS 45 at MIT on Oct. 31-Nov. 2.