Institut Jean Nicod

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Past sessions

Wednesday, 14th February - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm

Clemens Mayr - On the relation between the triggering and the projection problem for presuppositions

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm


In this talk I investigate Schlenker’s 2010 view whereby the triggering and the projection problem for presuppositions might be closely related. Following suggestions in the literature, I will argue that presuppositions are simple entailments. However, they need to be entailed by the utterance context because the truth-conditions of the sentence containing them are not fully specified. Otherwise, the sentence would not be assertable in the context. On this picture it turns out that the projection and the triggering problem are indeed two sides of the same coin. This view still necessitates a certain amount of lexical stipulation regarding the presupposition triggers. I suggest that this is unavoidable given a certain flexibility in the triggering and projection patterns. Finally, I attempt to single out a common source for the observed triggering and projection patterns thereby making the requirement on lexical stipulation somewhat more palatable.

Wednesday, 7th February - 2pm-3.30pm

Constant Bonard - Truth-conditional music semantics: two challenges from art criticism

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm


Philippe Schlenker (2017) has proposed an outline for a truth-conditional music semantics. In this talk, I should present two challenges for such a project. The first is that of synonymy and goes as such: (a) If musical meaning is truth-conditional, then there can be different musical utterances which are synonymous. (b) There cannot be different musical utterances that are synonymous. (c) Therefore, musical meaning is not truth-conditional. The defender of a truth-conditional music semantics must reject (a) or (b). I argue that (a) follows from Schlenker’s model as it stands today, and then consider why (b) is plausible. To this end, I present a thesis which has a long history in art criticism – a version of “The Heresy of Paraphrases” (Brooks 1947) – according to which meaningful art don’t allow for paraphrases, unlike, e.g., vernacular, philosophical, or scientific meaningful statements.
The second challenge is that of context dependency and goes as such: (a) If musical meaning is truth-conditional, then two musical utterances made up of the same sounds cannot have different meanings. (b) Two musical utterances made up of the same sounds can have different meanings. (c) Therefore, musical meaning is not truth-conditional. Once again, the defender of a truth-conditional music semantics must reject (a) or (b), I argue that (a) follows from Schlenker’s model as it stands, and then consider why (b) is plausible. To do so, I again adapt a thesis coming from art criticism, sometimes known as the “Pierre Ménard case”, introduced in contemporary aesthetics by Arthur Danto (1981).
My conclusion is not that a truth-conditional semantics is doomed to failure. On the contrary, I believe that taking up these challenges would allow specifying the extent of what can and cannot be dealt with a truth-conditional musical semantics, avoiding potential misunderstandings, and allowing a fruitful dialogue with art criticism, a domain where the meaning of music is richly discussed.
Danto, A. (1981)The transfiguration of the commonplace
Brooks, C. (1947)The well-worth urn
Schlenker, P. (2017) "Outline of music semantics” inMusic Perception



Past sessions


Wednesday, 24th January - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]

Salvador Mascarenhas - Reasoning with disjunctions as a form of hypothesis testing

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm


The idea that human reasoning is best modeled by rational (Bayesian) update procedures resting on a representational system with probability measures has gained great currency in the psychology of reasoning in the 21st century (e.g. Oaksford and Chater, 2007). Conversely, the popularity of research paradigms that approach human reasoning within the mold of (some) deductive system has decreased. In this talk I argue that elements from both approaches are necessary to understand a diverse class of fallacious inference patterns involving disjunction. More concretely, I give a reconceptualization of the Erotetic Theory of Reasoning of Koralus and Mascarenhas (2013), a variant of Mental Models Theory (Johnson-Laird, 1983), in terms of Bayesian confirmation theory, where the hypotheses under consideration are determined by disjunctive premises interpreted as questions, along the lines of Inquisitive Semantics (Groenendijk, 2008; Mascarenhas, 2009). I make this case with both purely theoretical arguments and experimental evidence. The resulting picture of human reasoning is congenial to the view of the human mind as a rational updater (cf. Hohwy, 2013), while demonstrating the need for "old-fashioned" logical elements of model-theoretic approaches to content.



Wednesday, 10th January - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]

Keny Chatain - Local contexts for anaphora

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm


Schlenker (2008, 2010) shows a completely systematic incremental procedure to derive local contexts for presupposition. This removes the need for encoding projection behaviour in particular lexical entries, as in Dynamic Semantics. In subsequent unpublished work, Schlenker attempts to apply the same ideas to define an incremental notion of local context relevant to anaphora. In work in progress, I pick up on this project ; I try to account for existential/universal reading of donkey anaphora, in terms of context indeterminacy. I move on to show how the proposal can be used to derive puzzling cases of donkey anaphora with a non-indefinite antecedent: existential readings of definite plurals (Kriz, 2015), derived kind predication (Chierchia, 1998), etc.


Wednesday, 13th December - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]

Cornelia Ebert - Temporal sequence and the alignment of gesture and speech

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm


The temporal sequence of verbal expressions as well as the temporal alignment of gesture and speech is decisive for the information status of the involved expressions. It is by now established that, while appositives are generally seen as contributing non-at-issue, sentence-final appositive clauses are much easier to be interpreted at-issue than sentence-medial ones (AnderBois et al. 2014; Koev 2013). Similarly, the temporal synchronization of gesture and speech is not without consequences (cf. Esipova 2017). I will argue (against Schlenker 2016) that while co-speech gestures are not-at-issue by default (Ebert & Ebert 2014; Schlenker 2016), post-speech gestures are more likely to be interpreted at issue. I propose a continuous scale of self-contained gesture interpretation: gestures that have their own time slot are interpreted at issue; the less they are synchronized with speech the more likely it is that they will be interpreted as at issue material (cf. Kendon’s continuum, Kendon 1980). Furthermore I will discuss the possibility and systematic means to shift information from the non-at-issue dimension to the at-issue dimension and vice versa. I will focus my attention on the relationship between gesture and speech and argue that language provides different means of initiating dimension shifting.


Wednesday, 6th December - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]

Lisa Bylinina - On ’zero’

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm


Zero is a relatively recent addition to many cultures — the word ’zero’ is first used in English only in the 16th century. However, ’zero’ is not uncommon: according Merriam Webster dictionary, ’zero’ is more frequent than ’thirteen’. In this talk, we will focus on a prenominal use of ’zero’, as in ’I have zero new emails in my inbox’. We show that ’zero’ can’t be an emphatic variant of ’no’ and that giving ’zero’ a regular numeral semantics is possible and desirable. We formulate such an analysis and its consequences. In particular, we argue that if zero is indeed the bottom of the numeral scale, then the domain of entities will have to come with a bottom element as well and is a lattice rather than merely a semi-lattice. We explore the effect this will have on the meaning of degree quantifiers in general and on the meaning of bare plural indefinites.



Wednesday, 29th November - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]

Yael Sharvit - What negative polarity items reveal about true sentences

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm


Strict negative polarity items (e.g., ‘in years’, ‘until tomorrow’) are acceptable in the scope of ‘not’ unless the negative polarity item and some “blocker” are in the scope of the same occurrence of ‘not’, and the negative polarity item is in the scope of the “blocker”. ‘True’ is a “blocker” but ‘think’ is not (as illustrated by the unacceptability of ‘It isn’t true that Mary has had a good friend in years’ vs. the acceptability of ‘I don’t think that Mary has had a good friend in years’). We discuss what this fact implies about the syntax and semantics of ‘think S’, ‘know S’ and ‘It is true that S’.



Wednesday, 22nd November - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]

Alexandre Cremers - "A hybrid approach to the ignorance inference of modified numerals"

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm


Modified numerals, such as "at least 3" or "more than 5", tend to trigger ignorance inferences. Geurts&Nouwen (2007) famously argued that these ignorance inferences are stronger with superlative "at least" than with comparative "more than", and proposed a modal denotation for "at least" which semantically encoded the ignorance inference. Since then, competing accounts have been proposed which try to derive all ignorance inferences as implicatures, keeping very simple denotations for "at least" and "more than".

In this talk, I will first present experimental work showing that (a) there is indeed a difference between "at least" and "more than", but (b) against the predictions of a purely semantic account, the ignorance inference of "at least" is not so strong, and is affected by QUD. Along the way, we also show a contrast between "at least/more than" on the one hand, and "at most/fewer than" on the other hand, and some interesting results with bare numerals.

Although the results support a view of ignorance inferences as implicature, I will argue that purely pragmatic accounts are untenable. I will instead sketch a mixed account in which "at least/at most" behave as modals because of their superlative morphology, but the ignorance inference is ultimately derived as an implicature.



Wednesday, 15th November - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]

Heather Burnett & Olivier Bonami - "Indexicality, Utility and Conceptual Spaces: Variation and Change in Grammatical Gender in the Debates of the French House of Representatives

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm


In this presentation, we give a new study of the role that social meaning and speaker ideologies play in variation and change in g(rammatical) gender in French. More specifically, we study noms de métiers et de fonctions ’professional nouns’ which have the following g-gender assignment pattern: when they are used to refer to socially female individuals, they can have either masculine or feminine g-gender (i.e. le ministre or la ministre for a female minister); whereas, when they are used to refer to socially male individuals, they can have only masculine g-gender (only le ministre for a male minister).

We present (to our knowledge) the first quantitative study of the linguistic and social factors that condition the use of masculine vs feminine g-gender with reference to women, focusing on variation in the transcripts of the debates of the Assemblée Nationale (AN, French House of Representatives). This corpus features intra-speaker variation in g-gender use, as shown by the examples in (1), both said by Jean-Marc Ayrault.

a. Madame le ministre de l’environnement, plus de 6 000 personnes ont défilé, samedi dernier, dans les rues de Nantes, pour protester contre l’autorisation donnée par le Gouvernement à EDF de remblayer la zone humide du Carnet dans l’estuaire de la Loire. (M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, 29/01/1997)
b. Monsieur le président, madame la ministre, mes chers collègues, tout à l’heure, le président Bayrou me reprochait d’avoir dit que nous étions venus pour voter le projet de loi de finances. (M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, 19/12/1997)

The use of grammatical gender in expressions referring to women has been the subject of enormous amounts of prescription and language planning in France and within the Assemblée Nationale itself (see Houdebine 1987, 1998, Burr 2003, Viennot 2014, among others). These efforts can be naturally divided into two phases of activism: First, in 1986, Prime Minister Laurent Fabius legislates the use of feminine grammatical gender and (certain) feminized forms in the AN and similar government institutions. However, we show in our data that this prescription had little to no effect on the speech of the politicians at the time (see also Yaguello 1989, Brick & Wilks 1994 for non-quantitative observations). Second, in 1998, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin issues a statement reiterating Fabius’ policy. We show that, unlike 12 years earlier, use of the feminine form (eg. la ministre) successfully replaces use of the masculine form (eg. le ministre) within the space of a year in the AN. This striking difference raises the question: What changed from 1986 to 1998 which allowed the feminine form to take over, possibly aided by (the exact same) language policy?

Our main proposal in this talk is that changes in the use of feminine grammatical gender and differences in the effectiveness of Fabius/Jospin’s language policy are the result of changes in social gender ideologies that occurred in France between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s. To make this claim maximally explicit, we develop a formal model of the relationship between ideological structure and language use and interpretation based on current work in game theoretic pragmatics (particularly Franke 2009 and Frank & Goodman 2012). More specifically, we use Gärdenfors (2000, 2014)’s Conceptual Spaces framework to formalize speaker ideologies and Burnett (2017)’s Social Meaning Game framework to capture the link between ideological structure, social meaning and language use. Using this model, we show that the failure of Fabius’ policy and Jospin’s subsequent successful use of this policy is predictable from independently motivated assumptions concerning 1) the social meaning of French g-gender (following Livia 2001, McConnell-Ginet 2013), and 2) changes in social discourses surrounding the properties of female politicians associated with theParité (’equal representation’) debates in the late 1990s (Ramsay 2003, Scott 2007, Julliard 2012, among others). We therefore conclude that tools from formal semantics and pragmatics can be helpful to understanding both the relationship between social change and linguistic change, and the conditions under which language policies can be effective.



Wednesday, 25th October - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]
Amir Anvari - "Encoding content: logical force and contextual knowledge"

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm

I will provide a unified analysis of three classes of data that, despite the widespread intuition that they have a common source, have so far not been brought under one theoretical roof. Specifically, these are Maximise Presupposition! phenomena (Heim 1991, Percus 2006, a.o.), cases involving presupposed ignorance (Spector & Sudo 2016), and mismatching implicatures (Magri 2009, 2011). My proposal, couched in trivalent semantics, is based on a core condition, which states that an expression must not be used in a context in which it would contextually entail any of its logically non-weaker alternatives: if an alternative is not logically entailed, it must not be contextually entailed either. I will show that this condition, coupled with a suitable projection recipe, captures the paradigm uniformly and makes novel predictions to boot, which I will corroborate


Wednesday, 18th October - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]
Paolo Santorio - "Conditional Excluded Middle in Informational Semantics"

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm

An empirically adequate semantics for conditionals should vindicate both a principle of Conditional Excluded Middle and the incompatibility of "If p, not q" and "If p, might q". Unfortunately, no existing semantics succeeds in the task. I go on to suggest that the puzzle posed by these two logical requirement is a generalization of Yalcin’s well-known puzzle about epistemic contradictions and brings out a basic tension for truth-conditional frameworks. I show that a generalization of Veltman’s update semantics, which I call "path semantics", can be used to capture both principles. I conclude by suggesting that path semantics also promises to help with traditional difficulties related to the relation between conditionals and probability.


Wednesday, 11th October - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]
Rachel Dudley - "Discovering the factivity of "know"

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm

"Know" and "think" both express beliefs but differ in their ’factivity’. "Think" can report false beliefs, while the complement of "know" is presupposed to be true. How do children figure out that "know" is factive but "think" isn’t. In this talk, I’ll report on a series of studies (involving behavioral and corpus methods) designed to pursue this question. Using behavioral tasks, we find that children begin to understand the difference around 3, but that there is a lot of individual variation in when this understanding is demonstrated. One source of this individual variation might be differences in the linguistic experience that children have with "know" and "think". To pursue this hypothesis, we used corpus methods to examine aspects of the input that children receive. We find that direct cues to factivity are sparse: (i) "think" is rarely used in contexts where the complement is false; (ii) "know" is rarely used in contexts where its complement is presupposed. However, we find that "think" and "know" differ greatly in how speakers use them in conversation: (iii) "know" is used to ask or answer questions, whereas "think" is used to make weak assertions. This suggests that noticing the goals of speakers who use the verbs might provide a less noisy signal than observing what speakers presuppose in using the verbs. Finally, I’ll introduce a new study in this series (currently in progress) which will directly measure the relationship between input and understanding of the verbs.


Wednesday, 4th October - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]
Chris Barker - "Negative Polarity as Scope Marking"

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm

What is the communicative value of negative polarity? That is, why do so many languages maintain a stock of special indefinites (weak Negative Polarity Items) that occur only in a proper subset of the contexts in which ordinary indefinites can appear? Previous answers include: marking the validity of downward inferences; marking the invalidity of veridical inferences; or triggering strengthening implications. My starting point for exploring a new answer is the fact that an NPI must always take narrow scope with respect to its licensing context. In contrast, ordinary indefinites are notorious for taking wide scope. So whatever else NPIs may do, they at least serve as an utterly reliable signal that an indefinite is taking narrow scope. As also proposed in recent work of Kusumoto and Tancredi, I will show that NPIs are only licensed in contexts in which the wide scope construal of an indefinite fails to entail the narrow scope. In other words, weak NPIs occur only in contexts in which taking narrow scope matters for interpretation. Thus one part of the explanation for the ubiquity and robust stability of negative polarity is that it signals scope relations.


Wednesday, 27th September - 2pm-3.30pm
Brian Buccola - "Obligatory irrelevance and the computation of ignorance inferences"

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm

The standard grammatical theory of scalar implicature, as envisioned by Chierchia (2004), Fox (2007), and Chierchia, Fox, and Spector (2012), posits that scalar implicatures are derived in grammar, as a matter semantics, rather than pragmatically, as an implicature rooted in Grice’s maxim of quantity. Ignorance inferences, by contrast, e.g. those associated with plain disjunctive sentences, are derived pragmatically, as quantity implicatures. More generally, the standard theory predicts that for any utterance S and any relevant proposition φ which isn’t entailed, and whose negation isn’t entailed, by S, S gives rise to an inference of speaker ignorance about φ. We argue that this prediction is wrong: it fails to explain the contrast in ignorance inferences associated with "at least" (which obligatorily implies ignorance) vs. more than (which doesn’t) (Geurts and Nouwen 2007; Nouwen 2010, 2015). The problem is that, without stipulating restrictions on which propositions are relevant, the theory overgenerates ignorance inferences across the board. We argue that the solution is to close relevance under belief (if φ is relevant, then it’s also relevant whether the speaker believes φ). This move has the effect that ignorance inferences, like scalar implicatures, can only be derived in grammar, via a covert belief operator of the sort proposed by Meyer (2013) and discussed further by Fox (2016). The maxim of quantity, we show, then no longer enriches the meaning of an utterance, per se, but rather acts as a filter on what can be relevant in an utterance context. In particular, certain alternatives (of certain utterances) are shown to be incapable of being relevant in any context where the maxim of quantity is active — a property we dub *obligatory irrelevance*. We argue that obligatory irrelevance provides the key to understanding the contrast in ignorance inferences exhibited by "at least" vs. "more than". We also argue that translating our proposal into neo-Gricean terms, if at all possible, would yield a conceptually less appealing and empirically less adequate theory.


Wednesday, 31st January - 11.30am-1pm [followed by a social hour, 1pm-2pm]

Andreas Haida, "Logical reasoning by scalar inference computation"

IJN/LSCP seminar room, ground floor, Pavillon, 29 rue d’Ulm


Joint work with Luka Crnicˇ & Yosef Grodzinsky

It seems that logical reasoning is a necessary component of human activities such as science,engineering, and legislature. However, psychological studies found failure rates of up to 80%and more when subjects perform logical reasoning tasks such as forming (in)validity judgments about the arguments in (1) and (2), where only (1) is valid in Aristotelian logic.

(1) All desires are sins (p1) and some beliefs are desires (p2)
Therefore: some beliefs are sins (c) (valid)

(2) All desires are sins (p1) and some beliefs are sins (p3)
Therefore: some beliefs are not desires (d) (invalid)

These findings have often been taken to show that human reasoning is illogical. Other re-searchers concluded that reasoning is logic-based but also involves non-logical inferential meth-ods such as scalar-inference (SI) computation, which yields the logically invalid inferences in(3).

(3) a. some beliefs are sins (p3) —> not all beliefs are sins (s1)
b. some beliefs are not desires (d) —> not all beliefs are not desires (s2)

Recent studies suggest that there is individual variation in the use of SIs. We identify five‘SI profiles’ of logical arguments such as the profile of (2): the premises p1 and p3 validatethe conclusion d if and only if the SI of p3 is taken into account and the SI of d is supressed(that is, p1 ∧ p3 ∧ s1 ⇒ d but p1 ∧ p3 ∧ s1 ̸⇒ d ∧ s2). In a validity-rating experiment, we testedfor individual variation in the response to the five SI profiles. Our data show, for instance, thatthere are subjects that systematically accept arguments with the profile of (2) but reject logicallyinvalid arguments that are inert to SI computation. Thus, they compute SIs for premises but notfor conclusions. Overall, the data show that a sizable proportion of ‘logical failures’ are in factsuccessfully performed logical inferences on the basis of sentence meanings that are enrichedby SIs. I will discuss how we may explain the existence of different groups of reasoners and thepreference to perform SI computations in premises over conclusions.