Tag Archives: Semantics/Pragmatics
7/12 Universality and Empirical Validity in Pragmatics

July 12, 2013
2353 Mason Hall

Organizer contact: Marina Terkourafi (mt217@illinois.edu)

Click here for workshop website.

See Workshop Description


Marina Terkourafi* (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign),

Philippe De Brabanter (UniversitéLibre de Bruxelles) and

Yoshiko Matsumoto (Stanford University)

*Primary workshop contact; email: mt217@illinois.edu


In a recent article (“The weirdest people in the world?” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (2010), 61–135), Henrich, Heine and Norenzayan argued that a disproportionate amount of behavioral research is conducted using subjects from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) populations, who are frequent outliers even within their own societies and not representative of humanity at large. This is said to seriously undercut the generalizability of the conclusions reached based on the behavior of these subjects and the universality of the theoretical explanations ultimately proposed. This workshop will address the implications of these claims for the field of linguistic pragmatics. Linguistic pragmatics is especially interesting in this regard because, although it is a field where socio-cultural variability is prevalent, it is also one where universalist frameworks have often endured despite frequent and early criticism of cultural bias (two well-known examples are E. O. Keenan’s (1978) critique of Grice’s maxims based on her fieldwork in Madagascar and M. Rosaldo’s (1982) critique of Searle’s speech act theory based on her research among the Ilongot).Our aim is to bring together experts working on different pragmatic phenomena (including but not limited to: implicature, deixis, presupposition, reference resolution, speech acts, conversational structure, and information structure), to address a set of related questions such as:


  • In your view, has research in your area of pragmatics been limited by a bias toward WEIRD populations of researchers and populations studied?
  • If so, how has this bias affected the topics studied and the conclusions reached?
  • What phenomena, if any, have been left out in your particular area of pragmatics, and, conversely, when non-WEIRD populations have been studied, what (new) phenomena have potentially been discovered?
  • If a bias is indeed present, how do you think it could be methodologically and institutionally addressed?


We find these questions to be extremely topical for the discipline at large, as new paradigms such as Experimental Pragmatics are becoming increasingly popular. While those paradigms may themselves be prone to the above limitations, it is precisely empirical work along these lines that could also begin to address them — and may even be said to have begun to do so to a small extent, by deliberately focusing on, among others, subjects with neuro-developmental disorders (notably Autism Spectrum Disorders), and the pragmatics of sign languages.

7/13-14 Workshop on Interfaces at the Left Periphery

July 13-14, 2013
2330 Mason Hall

Organizer contacts: Ed Cormany (esc53@cornell.edu) (primary), Sarah Courtney (sgc47@cornell.edu), Cara DiGirolamo (cmd279@cornell.edu)

Click here to see workshop website.

See Workshop Description

Since Rizzi’s (1997) original syntactic exploration of the sentential left periphery, the complexity of the domain at a clause’s edge has received attention from linguists studying syntax, semantics and prosody. However, study of the cross-linguistic variety in clause boundaries, clause typing, and the information-structural use of peripheral positions has only scratched the surface. This workshop seeks to bring together linguists working on the “left edge” of the sentence from a variety of theoretical backgrounds. We hope to facilitate dialogue between discourse theorists, semanticists, syntacticians, phonologists, and phoneticians to come to a better understanding of what is going on just above (syntactically) or just before (phonologically) the traditional IP domain. Topics that the workshop will cover include but are not limited to: clause typing, complementation, discourse constraints on argument structure, information structure, and word order change as they pertain to the left periphery, sentence-initial positions, and the CP domain.

We will solicit applications to fill three panels. Panels on any aspect of clause boundaries or the left periphery not covered in the invited panels — particularly sessions on prosodic and phonological interfaces — are welcome. Research on understudied languages or languages that have not traditionally been part of the left periphery literature are encouraged. Submissions from graduate students or recent Ph.D. recipients are especially welcome.  Full panel submissions, including presenters and a chairperson, will be accepted in early spring.
The organizers will invite speakers for another three panels, each of which address different aspects of the left periphery.

The first invited panel will center on clause types and the syntax/semantics/pragmatics interface at the left periphery. The panel will bring together researchers working on semantic interpretations at the highest level of the clause, focusing on questions, imperatives, and the distinction between matrix and subordinate clauses.

The second invited panel will focus on the discourse properties of the periphery. This panel will seek out research on the contextual and information-structural constraints on phrases that are displaced from their base positions into the left periphery, as well as research about peripheral discourse particles that perform clause-linking functions.

The third invited panel examines clause boundaries and peripheries from a diachronic perspective. The panel will present research dealing with the roles that information structure and leftward displacement of arguments play in word-order changes (e.g., the development and loss of V2 constructions).

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Experimental Pragmatics

Gregory Ward – Northwestern University
William S. Horton – Northwestern University
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 11:00 am – 12:50 pm
2306 Mason Hall

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The emerging field of experimental pragmatics combines an interest in the theoretical complexities of language use with the experimental methodologies of psycholinguistics. This course will present a broad survey of recent work in this area that has attempted to apply the methods of experimental psychology to classic issues in theoretical pragmatics. Each class session will include both theoretical and experimental readings on topics such as reference, information structure, implicature, and speech acts. These topics wrestle with the relationship between the sentence, as an abstract object with phonological, syntactic, and semantic properties assigned by the grammar of the language, and the utterance, as the concrete realization of that sentence with properties inherited from consideration of the discourse situation. The class will also focus on a number of experimental and analytical methodologies that have been used to investigate these topics, including reaction time studies, eyetracking, and corpus analysis.  In general, the course will be organized primarily around discussion of the assigned readings, and students will have the opportunity to develop a research proposal relevant to issues in language use.  No specific background in or familiarity with particular experimental methods or approaches is required.


Intensional Semantics

Ezra Keshet – University of Michigan
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 9:00-10:50 am
2353 Mason Hall

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This course explores the meanings of linguistic descriptions of beliefs, dreams, hopes, desires, the past, the future, and what might have been.  For instance, while extensional semantics might detail what the world is like when the sentence “it’s raining” is true, intensional semantics asks what the world is like when “Mary thinks it’s raining” is true.  (Hint: it doesn’t have to be raining.)

Topics will include tense (“it’s raining” vs. “it rained”), aspect (“it’s raining” vs. “it rains”), modal statements (“it might rain”), propositional attitudes (“I wish it would rain”), conditionals (“If it rains, I’ll get wet”), and the de re / de dicto distinction – the reason why one can say “Mary thinks someone in this room is outside” even if Mary is not crazy.

An introductory theoretical semantics class will be assumed, but aspiring students may study a textbook such as Heim & Kratzer’s Semantics in Generative Grammar (Blackwell, 1998) on their own or enroll concurrently in the introductory semantics class.

Introduction to Semantics

Eytan Zweig – University of York
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 11:00-12:50 pm and 5:30-7:20 pm on Tuesday, June 25 (no class Wednesday, July 10)
2353 Mason Hall

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This course is an introduction to the study of meaning in language, with a focus on formal semantic theory but also touching on some issues in pragmatics and lexical semantics. We will first establish the core principles of formal semantic research, with a special focus on compositionality – how the meaning of sentences and phrases arises from the meaning of its parts. We will also discuss how every utterance involves several layers of meaning, including literal meaning, presupposition, and pragmatic implications. Then, we will look at many of the components that come together to create the meaning of sentences, showing that even seemingly simple and familiar sentences may contain surprising depths. Questions under discussion will include the semantics of modals, propositional attitudes, quantification, definiteness, and plurality.

There are no requirements for the course, but familiarity with basic set theory and logic will be helpful, as will familiarity with basic syntactic concepts such as constituency.


Prosody and Information Structure

Angelika Kratzer – University of Massachusetts
Lisa Selkirk – University of Massachusetts
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 9:00-10:50 am
2306 Mason Hall

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Relying on recent theoretical and cross-linguistic work, the course will begin by clarifying the semantic and pragmatic properties of information structure that natural languages choose to represent in one way or other – syntactically, prosodically, or lexically. The emphasis will be on the representation of discourse-old versus discourse-new, various types of contrasts, and various types of topicality. We will then explore how different languages exploit morphological, syntactic, or prosodic formats of representation to express information structural distinctions.  Given the expertise of the instructors, the prosodic reflexes of information structure and their various sources in the grammar will get the most attention in this course, but, in line with the theme of this Summer Institute, we will also document that prosody is just one possible way of representing information structural properties in the languages of the world:  there is no necessary connection between prosody and information structure. Throughout the course, we will probe into possible grammatical architectures that might be responsible for the observed range of realizations for information structural properties. Pre-requisites: Graduate student level familiarity with phonology, syntax, and semantics.


Scalar Implicatures and Grammar

Benjamin Spector – Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 1:30-3:20 pm
2325 Mason Hall

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Pragmatics studies the interactions of linguistic meaning, as determined by grammatical compositional mechanisms, with inferential processes that involve reasoning about speakers’ communicative intentions. In recent years, pragmatics has started being studied with as rigorous techniques as those used in formal semantics, giving rise to the relatively new field of Formal Pragmatics. One of the results of this trend has been that certain widely accepted assumptions about the division of labor between semantics and pragmatics have been challenged. One of this course’s goals is to enable students to understand these recent debates. We will focus on one particular type of inference, known as scalar implicatures, whose status is currently under debate; while the traditional, Gricean view conceives of them as paradigmatic cases of pragmatic inferences, it has been recently argued that they should rather be thought of as a grammatical phenomenon. We will present in a detailed way the various arguments of the two sides of the debate. As we’ll see, they appear to involve a variety of linguistic phenomena, such as the interpretation of interrogative clauses, focus-marking and focus-sensitive operators, modal environments, the interpretation of number and gender features, numerals, negative polarity items, free-choice items… . We will also discuss a few experimental studies which are relevant to the theory of scalar implicatures and related issues.  Students enrolling in this course should have significant background knowledge in formal semantics or/and logic (typically at the level of a graduate or advanced undergraduate introductory class).

Second Language Acquisition: Universality and Variability

Diane Larsen-Freeman – University of Michigan
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 3:30-5:20 pm
2336 Mason Hall

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The modern day study of second language acquisition (SLA) dates back to the late 1960s.  What launched it was the discovery of common acquisition orders and sequences of development among all learners of a given second language. Of course, there was clear native language influence on such orders and sequences, but the L1 interference was perceived to minimally “disturb” them.  This finding of universality has been remarkably robust and is widely accepted among second language acquisition researchers.  It has inspired many theoretical explanations, from the existence of an innate universal grammar, still accessible in SLA, to processability theory, which explains the common order by appealing to sentence processing constraints, to usage-based theories, which attribute the universality to features in the input, such as the frequency, saliency, and contingency of form-meaning mapping of certain constructions. More recently, there has been a shift to focusing on variability in the SLA process.  While it has always been acknowledged to be part of SLA, awareness of its ubiquity has been heightened through increased attention to social and contextual factors.  In addition, when one examines individual learners, as opposed to group phenomena, variability is obvious. Gaussian statistics, which emphasize averages, should at least be complemented with Pareto-based statistics, which feature (nearly) infinite variance.  In addition, variability has been recognized to play an important role in stimulating language development among second language learners, leading researchers to focus upon variable performance, looking for “motors of change.” The course will conclude with a consideration of a complexity-theory view of language and its learning, which inspires us to look for what unites universality and variability.

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Semantic Fieldwork Methods

Judith Tonhauser – Ohio State University
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 1:30-3:20 pm
2347 Mason Hall

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This course introduces participants to the methodology of collecting semantic/pragmatic data in collaboration with linguistically untrained native speaker consultants.

Data that may inform semantic/pragmatic theorizing are typically quite complex, consisting of 1) one or more grammatical sentences that are 2) uttered in an appropriately designed context, and 3) a native speaker’s judgment about the acceptability or the truth of the sentence(s) uttered in that context.

The goal of the course is to familiarize students with the empirical, theoretical and methodological considerations relevant to obtaining such data. In particular, topics to be discussed include the kinds of judgments obtainable from native speakers, distinguishing syntactically ill-formed from semantically/pragmatically anomalous sentences/utterances, the importance of context and how to appropriately control for it, reporting semantic/pragmatic data, and the generalizability of results.

The course also examines the benefits of and difficulties with exploring semantic/pragmatic research questions through texts. The relative merits of one-on-one elicitation and controlled experiments with linguistically untrained native speakers are also considered.

Although much of the data provided for in-class discussion comes from Paraguayan Guaraní (Tupí-Guaraní), in particular studies of temporal and nominal reference, and of presuppositions and other projective contents, the course aims to prepare participants to conduct semantic/pragmatic fieldwork on any topic in any language. Note that this course does not have a regular practical component during which course participants work with a native speaker consultant; Professor Keren Rice’s field methods course (http://lsa2013.lsa.umich.edu/2012/05/field-methods/) is highly recommended for this purpose.

This course is targeted at students already familiar with formal syntax, semantics and pragmatics who wish to collect data with native speakers, as well as students who already have experience in conducting research with native speakers and want to extend their research to semantic/pragmatic topics. Interested course participants should contact the instructor (judith@ling.osu.edu) with questions about the course content and suitability.

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