Friday, November 20: Paolo Santorio

November 17th, 2015

Please join us this Friday as Paolo Santorio (Philosophy, University of Leeds) presents work on conditionals.

Date and time: Friday, November 20, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)

Title: Alternatives and truth-makers in conditional semantics


Most contemporary theories of conditionals are descendants of Stanaker/Lewis/Kratzer’s comparative closeness analysis. I start by revisiting a classical problem for this analysis. Conditionals with disjunctive antecedents (“if p or q, r”) seem to entail the two conditionals whose antecedents are the individual disjuncts (“if p, r” and “if q, r”); yet comparative closeness semantics can’t vindicate this entailment. It is often assumed that the puzzle  can be accommodated via one of two local fixes: (a) a scalar implicature in the antecedent, or (b) a non-Boolean meaning for “or”. I show that none of these two strategies can work. The puzzle requires modifying comparative closeness semantics. I suggest an analysis on which conditionals are alternative-sensitive: their truth conditions are computed in part by manipulating syntactic alternatives to the antecedent. Crucially, the algorithm for manipulating alternatives is different from the so-called “innocent excludability” algorithm in use for scalar implicatures, and involves a new notion that I call “specificity”. The resulting semantics for conditionals is hyperintensional (it doesn’t vindicate substitution of necessarily equivalent propositions), but in a way that is different from, and much tamer than, other hyperintensional accounts.

Friday, November 13: Orest Xherija

November 10th, 2015

Please join us this Friday as Orest Xherija from the Linguistics Department presents work on the semantics of temporal connectives.

Title: Before without after: nonveridicality, disjunction and context dependence

Date and time: Friday, November 13, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)


In this talk I will sketch a new, crosslinguistic semantics for the temporal connective before based on empirical observations from a number of languages. The semantics of before has been a longstanding problem in formal semantics and pragmatics due to the numerous properties that this connective seems to possess: (a) it allows for veridical, nonveridical and antiveridical readings of the before-headed clause (which reading we have depends (mostly) on context); (b) it licenses NPIs (in contrast to the alleged dual after); (c) it can license strong NPIs (Giannakidou 1998, for relevant examples from Modern Greek); (d) it seems to place an anti-PAST restriction on the verb of the before-headed clause (a fact that is observed in a number of diverse languages including Modern Greek, Albanian, Turkish and Japanese); (e) it appears to force a veridical reading when preceded by a measure phrase like three minutes. After showing that previous accounts (Ogihara 1995, Sánchez-Valencia et al. 1994, Condoravdi 2010, Krifka 2010 inter multa alia) have missed some of these empirical observations in attempting to formally characterize the semantics of before, I will sketch an account in which before is a function from contexts to meanings. This denotation aims to capture the numerous crosslinguistically robust properties of this connective with a uniform account that is language-independent. In sketching this account, I will provide evidence for the need of at least two lexical entries for before, to account for cases in which before is followed by a TP and cases in which it is followed by a DP, a fact that has not been addressed in any of the previous accounts.

Friday, October 30: Emily Hanink and Julian Grove

October 27th, 2015

Please join us this Friday as Emily Hanink and Julian Grove from the Linguistics Department present work on the German syntax-semantics interface. Please note that this will be our first meeting at our new default time of 10:30 a.m.

Title: Restrictive relatives, “same,” and the semantics of the German definite article

Date and time: Friday, October 30, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.

Location: Rosenwald 208 (Linguistics seminar room)


German definite articles are able to contract with prepositions under certain conditions. Schwarz (2009) argues that this contraction is blocked when a noun phrase is discourse anaphoric, otherwise it freely applies. In the current paper, we present a construction that counter-exemplifies this generalization: Restrictive relative clauses require the use of the non-contracted (strong) article form, despite their apparent lack of anaphoricity; both the determiner associated with the head noun and the relative pronoun (which is, in most cases, syncretic with the definite article) surface with the strong form. To account for this puzzle, we provide a uniform analysis of discourse anaphoric and relative clause uses that requires interpreting indices as features that may occupy their own projections in DP structure. In our analysis, the distinction between the strong and weak form is structural; the strong form contains an additional projection, which we call ‘idxP’, which hosts an index feature that may act either as a bindee, in the discourse anaphoric and relative-clause internal position, or as a binder, in the relative-clause external position. By building assignment functions into the semantic model (Sternefeld 1998, 2001; Kobele 2006, 2010; Kennedy 2014), we show that idxcan compositionally bind elements within its scope. We therefore unite anaphoric and relative clause uses by showing that both require the same additional structure, which is absent in the contracted (weak form), for binding purposes. We support this structure with morphological evidence for the presence of idx, which we argue can be realized overtly by the modifier same. An additional benefit of this proposal is that a single, Strawsonian denotation is preserved for all definite article uses, which is not possible in Schwarz’s system.

Friday, October 2: John MacFarlane

September 29th, 2015

Please join us this Friday as we host John MacFarlane, Professor of Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley.

Date: Friday, October 2, 2015
Time: 12:30 – 3:20 p.m.
Location: MS 112 (Math-Stat Building)

Talk title: “Vagueness as Indecision”


“This paper motivates an explores an expressivist theory of vagueness, modeled on Allan Gibbard’s (2003) normative expressivism. It shows how Chris Kennedy’s (2007) semantics for gradable adjectives can be adjusted to fit into a theory on Gibbardian lines, where assertions constrain not just possible worlds but plans for action. Vagueness, on this account, is _literally_ indecision about where to draw lines. It is argued that the distinctive phenomena of vagueness, such as the intuition of tolerance, can be explained in terms of practical constraints on plans, and that the expressivist view captures what is right about several contending theories of vagueness.”

Friday June 5: Sophia Sklaviadis

June 3rd, 2015

Please join us for a talk by Sophia Sklaviadis this Friday (special time: 10:00 am):

Speaker: Sophia Sklaviadis (Philosophy, PhD Student)
Title: Dimensions and Degrees of Virtue
Date: Friday, June 5
Time: 10:00 am – 11:20 pm
Location: Rosenwald 208

Friday May 29: John MacKay

May 26th, 2015

Please join us this Friday for a talk by John MacKay, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin.

Speaker: John MacKay (U. of Madison, Philosophy)
Title: Explaining the Actuality Operator Away
Date: Friday, May 29
Time: 12:30 am – 2:20 pm
Location: Rosenwald 208


I argue that “actually” does not have a reading in English where it is synonymous with the actuality operator of modal logic, and offer an alternative account of the term. After reviewing the reasons why actuality operators were introduced into formal languages, I argue that the interaction of “actually” with modality and tense reveals that it is not interpreted as such an operator. I advance an alternative account of “actually” and “actual” according to which they are presupposition triggers, along the lines of “even” or “too”. The presupposition they trigger has to do with the discourse evolving in non-standard fashion, with multiple information states being live candidates to be the context set.

Subjectivity in Language and Thought Conference

April 21st, 2015

Here is the program for the Subjectivity in Language and Thought Conference:

Wednesday, April 22, Stuart 101

9:30 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.
Matt Mandelkern (MIT), “A Solution to Karttunen’s Problem.”

10:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Lilia Rissman (University of Chicago), “Intentionality and Modality in the Semantics of an Instrumental Verb.”

11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Coffee Break

11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford University), “What Makes Detachment Fail?”

12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Lunch Break

2:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
Igor Yanovich (Tübingen), “Multiple-Assertion Variable-Free Modal in Ukrainian.”

2:45 p.m – 3:30 p.m.
Jonathan Howell (Montclair State), “Decomposing Weak Necessity in English.”

3:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Coffee Break

4:00 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.
Tamara Vardomskaya (University of Chicago), “Presentation and Assertion in Subjective Predicates.”

4:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.
Alda Mari (IJN, CNRS/ENS/EHESS – Chicago), “Epistemic Attitudes, Consensus and Truth.”

You can view the website here.

Friday April 17: Andrea Beltrama

April 16th, 2015

Please join us this Friday for a talk by Andrea Beltrama, PhD Candidate in Linguistics at the University of Chicago:

Speaker: Andrea Beltrama (Linguistics, PhD Candidate)
Title: Totally, unsettledness and questions under discussion: Exploring the pragmatic side of intensification
Date: Friday, April 17
Time: 12:30 am – 2:20 pm
Location: Rosenwald 208


Totally, unsettledness and questions under discussion. Exploring the pragmatic side of intensification. Intensification has received considerable attention in semantics. Yet, most authors mostly focused on cases of degree modification, where intensifiers operate over degree scales lexically encoded by their argument. Instead, little has been said about cases of purely pragmatic intensification, where intensifiers target scales recruited from non truth-conditional dimensions like commitment, certainty, expressivity, and as such operate outside the realm of regular at-issue semantic content. The current talk aims to take a step towards exploring this flavor of intensification by discussing the licensing and distribution of totally in American English in examples like the following.

(1) WTF Florida! Man in “I have drugs” shirt totally had drugs

(2) You should totally watch this movie.

(3) Dionne: There was a stop sign there!
Cher: I totally paused!

I argue that, in its usage as a pragmatic intensifier, totally operates as a device to resolve unsettledness surrounding the truth of a proposition. More specifically, by explicitly inviting the interlocutor to remove from the discourse model all worlds in which the proposition is false, totally intensifies the assertion itself, serving as device to close a question under discussion. Moreover, in contexts where no question under discussion is explicitly present, it can retroactively force the accommodation of one, while marking the proposition as conversationally relevant. I conclude by sketching out a possible way to bridge the connection between these cases and totally’s more canonic use as a degree modifier, suggesting that degree modification and pragmatic intensification are distinct flavors of the same underlying phenomenon.

Subjectivity in Language and Thought Conference

April 7th, 2015

Check out the website for our upcoming workshop on Subjectivity in Language and Thought, including logistical details and programme.

It takes place all day on Wednesday, April 22. Mark your calendars!

Friday April 3: Brian Weatherson

April 1st, 2015

Join us this Friday for a talk by Brian Weatherson (University of Michigan), who will be speaking about borderline cases:

SPEAKER: Brian Weatherson
TITLE: ‘Defending the Standard View of Borderline Cases’
DATE: Friday April 3
LOCATION: Rosenwald 208
TIME: 12:30 am – 2:20 pm


Many predicates, perhaps most of them, are vague. And most vague terms have, in some intuitive sense, borderline cases. There is a very common view about what it takes for something to be a borderline F: it is not determinately F, and it is not determinately not F. In her recent book, Diana Raffman has suggested a number of arguments against that standard view, and put forward an alternative. My main aim in this paper is to respond to those arguments, and defend the standard view.

This paper is part of a larger project that I’ll gesture at towards the end, and will happily talk about. The idea is to use a familiar kind of algebraic semantics to develop a theory that has the best features of some existing approaches, without their weaknesses. It’s relevant to the present talk because the theory does something Raffman says can’t be done: namely keep the standard view of borderline cases without qualifying classical logic.