Semantics and Pragmatics Exchange



Univ.-Prof. Dr. Hana Filip, PhD

Lehrstuhl Semantik, Institut für Sprache und Information


Wednesday, 12:30 -2 pm


Building 23.32, Level 02, Room 63



Talk Slides



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