Friday, March 13th: defense & workshop

No matter how superstitious you might be, this programme surely contains enough reasons to get out of bed this Friday the 13th anyway!

Workshop on the occasion of Hanna’s defense

Date & time: March 13th, 2015, 9:00-12:30
Location: Kromme Nieuwegracht 80, room 1.06 (Ravesteijnzaal)


9:00-9:15 coffee/tea
9:15-9:30 opening (Yoad Winter)
9:30-10:10 Thomas Ede Zimmermann (Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main): Fregean varieties of compositionality
10:10-10:50 Bart Geurts (Radboud University Nijmegen): Pragmatics and processing
10:50-11:10 coffee/tea
11:10-11:50 Jakub Dotlacil (Groningen University): Processing pluralities: syntax and the lexicon
11:50 -12:30 Hanna de Vries (Utrecht University): Animacy and semantic number: three case studies

Abstracts: (below the cut)

– Thomas Ede Zimmermann: Fregean Varieties of Compositionality
According to the Principle of Compositionality, the meanings of complex expressions can be systematically derived from the meanings of their immediate parts. For more than a century, varieties of this principle have played a central role in logic and semantic theory. I will take a look at the role of compositionality within Frege-Carnap semantics.  More specifically, I will compare 3 different ways of spelling out the principle: Intensional Compositionality, according to which intensions are derived by combining intensions; Fregean Compositionality, according to which, depending on the environment, extensions are derived by combining extensions; and Baroque Intensionality, according to which in certain environments indirect intensions need to be invoked.

– Bart Geurts: Pragmatics and processing
One of the standard objections against the Gricean approach to pragmatics is that it makes communication impossibly hard from a psychological point of view, causing e.g. Wilson (2000) to object that “it is hard to imagine even adults going through such lengthy chains of inference in the attribution of speaker meanings.” However, Grice’s “lengthy chains of inference” were never meant to be understood as hypotheses about ordinary mental states and processes, and the merits and demerits of Gricean pragmatics are not contingent on a mentalistic construal of intentions and other attitudes.
The purpose of Gricean reasoning is to make explicit why the hearer is entitled to draw certain inferences from what the speaker says. This raises the question of how pragmatics, thus construed, relates to the theory of processing. To answer this question, I adopt the general framework proposed by Marr (1982) for describing information-processing systems in general. In Marr’s terminology, Gricean pragmatics seeks to provide a “computational” account of communication, analysing speakers’ and hearers’ behaviour in terms of their propositional attitudes and communicative goals on the assumption that, by and large, speakers try to be cooperative.
Whereas a computational theory describes a system from the outside, so to speak, a processing theory deals in internal processes, states, and representations. Computational and processing theories constrain but don’t determine one another: in general, there will be many different ways a computational theory can be implemented at the processing level. But although a computational theory and its processing implementation may look very different, there are reasons to suppose that, in the case of Gricean pragmatics, there are important correspondences between the two levels. While the evidence that is currently available doesn’t support any substantive hypotheses (be they Gricean or not) about the dynamics of pragmatic processing, it does allow us to say with some confidence that interlocutors routinely model each other’s propositional attitudes: beliefs, desires, intentions, and so on. In recent years, it has become fashionable to deny this, but I argue that there is solid evidence for this claim, which is in line with the key tenets of Gricean pragmatics.

– Jakub Dotlacil: Processing pluralities: syntax and the lexicon (joint work with Adrian Brasoveanu)
Sentences with pluralities can receive at least two interpretations. For example, John and Bill lifted one box could be true if the boys lifted one box jointly (collective reading), or if the boys individually lifted a box, i.e., there were two lifting events and two boxes might have been lifted in total (distributive reading). Frazier et al. (1999) showed in an eye-tracking experiment that the processor prefers the collective interpretation. This finding was confirmed in Kaup et al. (2002) and Boylan et al. (2011). In semantics, two types of distributivity/collectivity are standardly distinguished: lexical and phrasal. This distinction has not entered the picture in previous psycholinguistic studies. I will discuss a processing experiment (self-paced reading study) that is the first one to take the difference into account. The results show that distributivity itself is not problematic for the processor, only the phrasal distributivity is. What this entails for the theories of processing and distributivity will be discussed in the talk.

– Hanna de Vries: Animacy and semantic number: three case studies
In this talk, I suggest that the relation between animacy and morphosyntactic plurality that exists in many languages (cf. Corbett 2000) reflects a deeper and possibly universal relation between animacy and the formal semantics of NPs. Using three different tests for diagnosing the semantic number of an NP and applying them to Dutch and Afrikaans, we will show that whether an NP is interpreted as semantically singular or semantically plural depends on the degree of animacy of its referent. I will try to prepare this talk with a general audience in mind, so non-semanticists will be able to learn something about the contents of my dissertation as well!

About hannadevries

University lecturer (in linguistics/artificial intelligence) with occasional opinions on religion & social justice-related stuff.
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