Institut Jean Nicod

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Soutenance de thèse de Luca Gasparri (ENS)

Vendredi 15 septembre 2017



Title: Six Pieces on Linguistic Sameness

Salle de Réunion du Pavillon Jardin, Institut Jean Nicod, 29 rue d'Ulm, Paris

Jury: François Recanati (supervisor), Paul Egré, Claire Beyssade, Mikhail Kissine, Salvador Mascarenhas


The overarching theme of this dissertation is linguistic sameness: the feature by which different bits of language are able to count “as a unit” or as “the same” even if they are internally heterogeneous or exhibit different surface properties. I pursue six issues within this theme.

Résumé en français : site de l'EHESS


Chapter 1 is about phonetic segments. Mainstream phonetics models continuous speech as a concatenation of discrete, letter-sized segments of unspecified temporal duration. In recent years, however, segment-based idealizations of speech have been called into question by eliminativist approaches to phonetic segments. The chapter attempts to vindicate segmental phonetics in face of the eliminativist arguments.

Chapter 2 is about phonological objects. Phonological statements quantify over phonemes, which are controversial particulars. No standard ontology accepts them as part of the furniture of the world. Hence, the question arises of how phoneme-infused statements manage to exhibit their perceived distribution of truth values. The chapter proposes to address the issue by applying Stephen Yablo’s non-factualism to phonological objects.

Chapter 3 is about the type-token problem. There are competing accounts of what specific relation is designated by the predicate “is a token of” as applied to the linguistic domain. The mainstream view is that tokens instantiate types, but this thesis presents several conceptual difficulties. Building on previous work by Zoltan Szabó, the chapter proposes a novel approach to the type-token problem, one based on the notion that speech sounds and inscriptions represent phonological and orthographic forms.

Chapter 4 is about word counting. According to some, word-type identity is established by similarity in structural-functional attributes. According to others, word-type identity is established by sameness of causal-historical lineage. The two frameworks yield competing word counting policies. Which of them is metaphysically adequate? The chapter articulates a quietist take on word counting, one arguing that there is no non-theoretical fact of the matter about “how many word types exist” in any given language-infused world or scenario.

Chapter 5 is about a puzzle in the theory of anaphora. Anaphoric dependency on referential antecedents is commonly thought to entail coreference. This mainstream principle, however, appears to be violated by sentences where an off-quote unbound pronoun is anaphoric on an antecedent within closed quotation marks. The chapter argues that sentences exhibiting the described pattern do not invalidate the mainstream principle, and articulates a salience-based analysis of the problematic cases.

Chapter 6 is about de jure coreference. De jure coreference is a peculiar kind of coreference relation that has attracted much attention in recent research. However, its autonomy from other varieties of coreference (most notably, accidental coreference) and its signature properties are the subject of controversy. The chapter provides a systematic presentation of the motivations underlying the introduction of de jure coreference, and defends a conservative account of its relationship to sentence grammar: the de jure vs. accidental divide is real but invisible from the standpoint of linguistic structure.