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Journal of Semantics Current Issue

Published: Tue, 30 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Last Build Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 07:46:15 GMT


Illocutionary Revelations: Yucatec Maya Bakáan and the Typology of Miratives

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Miratives have often been thought of as expressing predications which can be schematised as ‘p is Y for the speaker at the time of the utterance’, where Y is a member of the set (surprising, new information, a sudden revelation, …). While much of the prior literature has discussed the value of Y, this discussion has typically been taken to be primarily a matter of analysis or its conceptual underpinnings rather than an empirical one. In this paper, I examine a new mirative in detail, Yucatec Maya (YM) bakáan, using context-relative felicity judgments to argue that bakáan conventionally encodes sudden revelation rather than these other notions. While I hold that bakáan encodes revelation, I argue that this revelation is not in fact about propositional content per se, but rather is about the appropriateness/utility of the illocutionary update the speaker performs. A sudden revelation that a proposition is true is one such revelation, but other kinds are more clearly illocutionary in nature. Evidence for this position comes not only from bakáan in declarative sentences, but also its use in imperatives and interrogatives. I argue that the range of uses that the use of bakáan as an illocutionary modifier across sentence types sheds light on the kinds of updates they encode, and in particular supports a theory in which declarative updates are more complex than corresponding imperative and interrogative ones.

Determiners, Conservativity, Witnesses

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

A cherished semantic universal is that determiners are conservative (Barwise & Cooper 1981; Keenan & Stavi 1986). Well-known problem cases are only (if it has determiner uses) and certain uses of proportional determiners like many (Westerståhl 1985). Fortuny (2017), in a retracted contribution to this journal, proposed a new constraint (the Witness Set Constraint) to replace Conservativity. He claimed that his constraint is satisfied by only and the Westerståhl-many, thus correctly allowing the existence of these non-conservative determiners, whilst it is not satisfied by unattested non-conservative determiners (such as allnon). In fact, we show here that only does not satisfy Fortuny’s Witness Set Constraint (nor does Westerståhl-many, which we leave to the readers to convince themselves of). Upon reflection, it turns out that the reason is simple: the Witness Set Constraint is in fact equivalent to Conservativity. There simply cannot be non-conservative determiners that satisfy the Witness Set Constraint. We consider further weakening of the Witness Set Constraint but show that this would allow unattested determiners.

Discourse Semantics with Information Structure

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The property of projection poses a challenge to formal semantic theories, due to its apparent non-compositional nature. Projected content is therefore typically analyzed as being different from and independent of asserted content. Recent evidence, however, suggests that these types of content in fact closely interact, thereby calling for a more integrated analysis that captures their similarities, while respecting their differences. Here, we propose such a unified, compositional semantic analysis of asserted and projected content. Our analysis captures the similarities and differences between presuppositions, anaphora, conventional implicatures and assertions on the basis of their information structure, that is, on basis of how their content is contributed to the unfolding discourse context. We formalize our analysis in an extension of the dynamic semantic framework of Discourse Representation Theory (DRT)—called Projective DRT (PDRT)—that employs projection variables to capture the information-structural aspects of semantic content; different constellations of such variables capture the differences between the different types of projected and asserted content within a single dimension of meaning. We formally derive the structural and compositional properties of PDRT, as well as its semantic interpretation. By instantiating PDRT as a mature semantic formalism, we argue that it paves way for a more focused investigation of the information-structural aspects of meaning.

Underspecification in Degree Operators

Tue, 09 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

The goal of this article is to account for the recurrent homophony between comparison, additivity and continuation cross-linguistically. Building on Roger Schwarzschild's recent work on comparison in scale segment semantics, I propose that comparative, additive and continuative sentences all assert the existence of a rising scale segment, and differ in terms of (i) the nature of the scale and (ii) the identification of the extremities of the scale segments. At a morphosyntactic level, all three types of sentences involve the combination of a feature that denotes a property of rising scale segments with other features whose denotations constrain the identification of the extremities of the segments in a way that is characteristic of each interpretation (additivity, comparison or continuation). Homophony results from the underspecification of Vocabulary Items in Distributed Morphology.

The Scalar Inferences of Strong Scalar Terms under Negative Quantifiers and Constraints on the Theory of Alternatives

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Chemla & Spector (2011) have found experimental evidence that a universal sentence embedding a weak scalar term like Every student read some of the books has the strong inference that no student read all of the books, in addition to the weak one that not every student did (see also Clifton Jr & Dube 2010, Potts et al. 2015, Gotzner & Benz 2017, forthcoming). While it is controversial how this strong inference should be derived, there is consensus in the literature that this inference exists. On the other hand, the corresponding case of a negative quantifier embedding a strong scalar term like No student read all of the books is more controversial. In particular, it is controversial whether this sentence can give rise to the strong inference that every student read some of the books, in addition to the weak one that some student read some of the books (Chemla 2009a,b,c; Romoli 2012, 2014; Trinh & Haida 2015). And, to our knowledge, there is no convincing experimental evidence for the existence of this strong inference. In this article, we report on two experiments, building on Chemla & Spector 2011 and Chemla 2009c, systematically comparing sentences like the above with every and no. Our experiments provide evidence for the strong inferences of both every and no. We discuss how standard theories of alternatives (e.g. Sauerland 2004b) can account for our data but also how they incur over- and under-generation problems which have been pointed out in connection with the combination of alternatives for sentences with multiple scalar terms (Fox 2007; Magri 2010; Chemla 2010; Romoli 2012). We then discuss the two more constrained theories of alternatives by Fox (2007) and Romoli (2012) and we show that only the latter, combined with an independent account of the inferences of disjunction under universal quantifiers (Crnic et al. 2015; Bar-Lev & Fox 2016), can account for our data without incurring the above-mentioned problems.

Projecting Possibilities in the Nominal Domain: Spanish Uno Cualquiera

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Recent research argues that modal verbs project their domain of quantification from a part of the evaluation world—their ‘modal anchor’ (Hacquard 2006, 2009; Arregui 2009; Kratzer 2009, 2013, 2015). Based on the behaviour of the Spanish modal indefinite uno cualquiera, we contend that modal nominals can do the same.Uno cualquiera contributes modality: Juan cogió una carta cualquiera (‘Juan picked a random card’) conveys that Juan picked a card and that he chose it indiscriminately—he could have picked any other card. This ‘random choice’ interpretation is ruled out with non-volitional predicates (Choi & Romero 2008) and when uno cualquiera is in the subject position of agentive verbs. When uno cualquiera is embedded under some modals, another possibility arises: uno cualquiera introduces a distribution effect with respect to the worlds that the modal ranges over. For instance, ¡Coge una carta cualquiera! (‘Take any card!’) can be interpreted as conveying that any card is a permitted option. However, this harmonic interpretation is not available with all kinds of modals.We claim that this pattern can be derived if uno cualquiera is a nominal quantifier with a modal component that is anchored to an event. On this proposal, different interpretations arise depending on what event uno cualquiera takes as anchor. We argue that random choice modality is linked to the decision taken by the agent of the event described by the sentence. When the anchor of uno cualquiera is the event argument of the verb, uno cualquiera can access the decision that triggered this event, yielding the random choice interpretation. The selectional constraints that uno cualquiera imposes on its anchor restrict the types of modals that allow for harmonic interpretations.