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Jon Ander Mendia Seminar
March 6, 2020 @ 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Genericity and Grammar
Generic statements such as those in (1) express non-accidental, fundamental characteristics of some type of individuals and/or situations.
1) a. Birds fly.
b. Liz smokes after dinner.
c. This machine crushes oranges.
Such generic statements are cross-linguistically ubiquitous, tend to be morphosyntactically simple, and provide essential means to express the ways in which we view and reason about the world. In spite of this, core questions about their semantics remain unanswered to date: (i) What are the truth-conditions of generic statements (if any)? (ii) What are the criteria that single out all and only generic statements? (iii) Can we provide a uniﬁed semantics for all generic statements, and should we do so?
The main goal of this seminar will be to understand these challenges and provide preliminary answers to some of these foundational questions. We will start by examining the rich empirical landscape of generic statements so as to gain an understanding of why exactly their correct truth-conditional characterization has proven so elusive. Then, we will look into two major semantic theories of generics: genericity as kind-predication and genericity as quantification with a vague unselective quantifier GEN. We will finish with a brief discussion of the cognitive footprint of generic statements, and how notional distinctions such as inductive vs. regulative/dispositional generalizations may be linguistically relevant.