Scontras in SPLaT Thursday

The first SPLaT (Stanford Psychology of Language Tea) of winter quarter is happening this week on Thursday, Jan 31st. Greg Scontras (Harvard) will be presenting at 4:30, with snacks and tea starting at 4:15.

Collective Predication: The View from Plural Comparison

Joint work with Peter Graff (MIT) and Noah D. Goodman (Stanford)

The truth conditions of statements involving the comparison of pluralities, e.g., “the red boxes are bigger than the blue boxes,” have proven difficult to capture within the framework of formal semantics. Speakers have reliable judgments when comparing pluralities, however the semantics of these constructions cannot follow straightforwardly from the semantics generally assumed for comparatives (e.g., von Stechow, 1984; Heim, 1985; Kennedy, 1997) or for plurals (e.g., Link, 1983; Landman, 1989; Schwarzschild, 1996). Past work on plural comparison attempts to capture speakers’ intuitions in a semantics that reduces plural comparison to a multitude of comparisons between the individual members of the compared pluralities (Matushanksy and Ruys, 2006). We present experimental evidence showing that plural comparison does not reduce to the comparison of individual members, but rather to the comparison of collective properties inferred from the pluralities involved. Next, we show that different predicates favor different strategies in the formation of the collective properties relevant to comparison. We then show that pragmatic context can modulate these seemingly lexically-conditioned preferences, suggesting that the lexical preference observed is symptomatic of a broader phenomenon of context sensitivity in plural predication. Our results support a view of plural comparison (and collective predication more broadly) that is heavily dependent upon pragmatics, specifically the discourse goals imposed by the context.