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Semantics U-name-it at Rutgers

 

Welcome to SURGE! SURGE is our semantics reading group. What do we usually do?

  • attend talks given by invited speakers
  • practice presentations if you need to present in a conference or somewhere
  • present your work, discuss with other semanticists and get feedbacks

 

Organizers:

Ang Li (ang.li@rutgers.edu)

Ziling Zhu (ziling.zhu@rutgers.edu)

 

Meetings for this semester:

October 2nd, 2020: 11:30 am – 1:00 pm

Talk: Dorothy Ahn (Rutgers).

Title: Anaphoric expressions in spoken and signed languages.

Abstract: Expressions such as pronouns, definite descriptions, and demonstratives are interchangeable to some degree when it comes to referring to an entity that is salient and familiar in the discourse. However, these expressions are often discussed as separate semantic elements in the literature. In this talk, I propose a unified semantic account of these anaphoric expressions, where they share the same underlying semantic structure and only differ in the amount of restrictions that they carry. I discuss theoretical and empirical motivations for such an account in both spoken and signed languages. For spoken languages, I show that the analysis allows for a unified account of a number of independently observed phenomena across languages. For signed languages, I show that it greatly simplifies the semantic analysis of pointing that is used for referent tracking.

 

October 27th (Tuesday!), 2020: 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Talk: Patrick Elliott (MIT).

Title: Coreference, negation, and modal subordination.

Abstract: In this talk, I develop an update semantics with the resources for dealing with anaphora, negation, epistemic modality, and their interactions. The theory is directly inspired by, and can be thought of as a natural successor to Groenendijk, Stokhof, and Veltman’s (1996) influential theory, but improves upon it in a number of respects: I argue that negation is classical, as in update semantics (Veltman 1996), and consequently that double negation elimination is valid. more ambitiously, the theory marries Veltman’s (1996) test semantics for epistemic modals with an anaphoric treatment of modal subordination by enriching the ontology of discourse referents to include anaphora to a state (i.e., a proposition-assignment pair). novel empirical evidence is presented in the form of examples which i dub possible bathroom sentences, such as “Maybe there is no bathroom, and maybe it’s upstairs”, which, due to the properties of negation in the fragment, and the treatment of modal subordination, fall out naturally.

 

November 13th, 2020: 11:30 am – 1:00 pm

Talk: Morwenna Hoeks (UCSC).

Title: Which alternatives matter? A QUD-based approach to disjunctive questions.

Abstract: In this talk I will look into the relationship between different types of alternatives. Because disjunctive questions involve disjunctive alternatives, question alternatives, and, as I argue, also involve focus alternatives, they form a fertile testing ground for learning more about the division of labor between these. I will argue that the interpretation of these questions crucially come from effects of focus marking, not from the inherent alternatives often assumed for disjunction. To show how this works out, an account of focus and contrastive topic marking in questions is put forward in which f-marking in questions determines what constitutes a possible answer by signaling what the speaker’s QUD looks like. By imposing a congruence condition between f-marked questions and their answers that requires answers to resolve the question itself as well as its signaled QUD, we predict the right answerhood conditions for disjunctive questions.

 

December 4th, 2020: 11:30 am – 1:00 pm

Talk: Paloma Jeretič (NYU).

Title: Scalelessness in grammar.

Abstract: In this talk, I bring together studies from the literature and my own to develop a typology of scaleless quantificational items, and their associated implicatures. This typology — that builds on data from Ecuadorian Siona, Walpiri, Nez Perce, French, Spanish and English — reveals that scalelessness is either an obligatory side effect of the absence of a scalemate in the lexicon, or an arbitrary lexically-specified property. In addition, I argue that implicature can, but need not, be grammaticalized. While the presence/absence of grammaticalization is rather difficult to distinguish for scalar implicatures, it leaves a clear pattern in the case of scaleless implicatures. This work thus offers a new perspective on theories of scalar implicature, that are divided on whether or not implicature should be grammaticalized. It also uncovers new empirical ground on which to test these theories.