Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

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)

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!

SMircle Workshop Meeting Monday (10/20) at 3:15PM: Lahousse

Come join the SMircle Workshop on Monday in the Greenberg Room as they welcome Karen Lahousse (KU Leuven) who will discuss her work on verb-subject inversion in French. Her title and abstract are given below.

New arguments in favor of a low analysis for verb-subject inversion in French: on the interplay between syntax and information structure


Verb-nominal subject inversion in French (VS) is subject to a range of constraints having to do with (i) the syntactic structure of the configuration, including the position of the postverbal subject and the way in which (whatever formulation of) EPP is satisfied, (ii) the type of licensing contexts of VS and (iii) the information-structural status of the postverbal subject and the whole construction. Although any account of VS should incorporate these three issues, previous formal-syntactic analyses have concentrated on (i) alone.
In this talk I will present new evidence in favor of the classical ‘low’ analysis for VS (with S being in a low vP internal position, and the V raised lefward past it), and show how the licensing contexts of VS are determined by general information-structural principles interacting with the postverbal subject’s interpretation. Surprisingly, the same licensing contexts hold for impersonal passive constructions, and, thus, seem to be related to the formulation of EPP. A consequence of my proposal is that French VS word order is not radically different from VS in Italian, a welcome conclusion in the light of recent analyses having challenged the pro-drop parameter (which involves a radical distinction between French on the one hand, and Spanish and Italian on the other hand). I will also speculate on the difference between written French, where VS typically occurs, and spoken French, where this is not the case.

Sociolunch Wednesday (10/22), 11:45: NWAV Practice Talks

It’s time for NWAV practice talks at Sociolunch! Come by the Greenberg Room from 11:45-1 on Wednesday 10/22. All are welcome!

Cognition & Language Workshop Thursday (10/23) at 4PM: Davidson

Join the Cognition & Language Workshop next Thursday at 4 in the Greenberg Room, where Kathryn Davidson (Yale) will speak about iconicity in signed language and beyond!

CAN YOU QUOTE AN ACTION? Iconic event descriptions in signing, speech, gesture, and writing

Sometimes form-meaning mappings in language are not arbitrary, but iconic: they depict aspects of what they describe. Incorporating iconic elements of language into a compositional semantics faces a number of challenges. In this talk I will compare the iconicity found in written language quotation with another form of iconicity common in sign languages: classifier predicates. I argue that these two types of verbal iconicity can, and should, incorporate their iconic components in the same way as (neo-Davidsonian) event modification via context dependent demonstration (Clark and Gerrig 1990). This unified account of quotation and classifier predicates predicts that a language might use the same strategy for conveying both, and I argue that this is the case with role shift in American Sign Language, which can be used both to demonstrate others’ actions and language (Engberg-Pedersen 1993, Lillo-Martin 1995, Schlenker 2014). Throughout, sign languages provide a fruitful perspective for studying quotation and other iconic language due to (i) the rich existing literature on iconicity in sign language linguistics, (ii) the ability of role shift to overtly mark the scope of a demonstration and (iii) their lack of a commonly used writing system which is often mistaken as primary data instead of speech and co-speech gesture in the study of iconic language.