2018. (with Mora Maldonado) “An Experimental Note on Distributivity and Scope”. Manuscript, LSCP.
Experimental data are frequently used in formal semantics when intuitions about the existence of readings are shaky, and they can even help us to discover readings that go unnoticed by simple introspection (Marty et al., 2014). We report an experiment that tested the existence of distributive readings with plural noun phrases in object position (e.g. ‘A mouse is painting all the penguins’), which has been the subject of some disagreement in the literature (Steedman 2012). Our findings indicate that these readings do, indeed, exist, and we will suggest that their comparative marginality can be explained without recourse to a ban on inserting the distributivity operator in derived scope positions.
2018. (with Brian Buccola and Emmanuel Chemla) “Conceptual Alternatives: Competition in Language and Beyond”. Manuscript, LSCP.
Things we can say, and the ways in which we can say them, compete with one another. And this has consequences: words we decide not to pronounce have critical effects on the messages we end up conveying. For instance, in saying Chris is a good teacher, we may convey that Chris is not an amazing teacher. How this happens is an unsolvable problem, unless a theory of alternatives indicates what counts, among all the things that have not been pronounced. It is sometimes assumed, explicitly or implicitly, that any word counts, as long as that word could have replaced one that was actually pronounced. We review arguments against this powerful idea. In doing so, we argue that the level of words is not the right level of analysis for alternatives. Instead, we capitalize on recent conceptual and associated methodological advances within the study of the so-called “language of thought” to reopen the problem from a new perspective. Specifically, we provide theoretical and experimental arguments that the relation between alternatives and words may be indirect, and that alternatives are not linguistic objects in the traditional sense. Rather, we propose that competition in language is better seen as primarily determined by general reasoning preferences, or thought preferences (preferences which may have forged the lexicons of modern languages in the first place, as argued elsewhere). We propose that such non-linguistic preferences can be measured and that these measures can be used to explain linguistic competition, non- linguistically, and more in depth.
2017. “Bare Plurals, Multiplicity, and Homogeneity”. Manuscript, IJN.
This paper presents a novel view on the multiplicity implication of existential bare plurals. Deviating from the conventional wisdom that competition with the singular indefinite is involved, we argue that the facts can be conceived of in terms of the general trivalence of plural predication, which has been described for definite plurals under the name of homogeneity. This approach elegantly accounts for the behaviour of bare plurals using only independently motivated conceptual resources and overcomes problems that have been raised for the competition-based accounts.
2017. (with Benjamin Spector) “Interpreting Plural Predication: Homogeneity and Non-Maximality”. Manuscript, IJN.
Plural definite descriptions across many languages display two well-known properties. First, they can give rise to so-called non-maximal readings, in the sense that they ‘allow for exceptions’ (‘Mary read the books on the reading list’, in some contexts, can be judged true even if Mary didn’t read all the books on the reading list). Second, while they tend to have a quasi-universal quantificational force in affirmative sentences (‘quasi-universal’ rather than simply ‘universal’ due to the possibility of exceptions we have just mentioned), they tend to be interpreted existentially in the scope of negation (a property often referred to as homogeneity, cf. Löbner 2000). Building on previous works (in particular Krifka 1996 and Malamud 2012), we offer a theory in which sentences containing plural definite expressions trigger a family of possible interpretations, and where general principles of language use account for their interpretation in various contexts and syntactic environments. Our theory solves a number of problems that these previous works encounter, and has broader empirical coverage in that it offers a precise analysis for sentences that display complex interactions between plural definites, quantifiers and bound variables, as well as for cases involving non-distributive predicates. The resulting proposal is briefly compared with an alternative proposal by Križ (2016), which has similar coverage but is based on a very different architecture and sometimes makes subtly different predictions.
2017. “Referentiality, Exhaustivity, and Trivalence in it-Clefts”. Manuscript, IJN.
This paper defends the view that semantically, it-clefts are identity statements between two individuals and thus correspond to copular sentences where the cleft clause is turned into a definite description. The consequence of a violation of exhaustivity, which renders neither the cleft nor its negation true, can then be traced to the pattern of trivalence of plural predication. In our implementation of this idea, we improve on and extend Büring & Križ’s (2013) theory. We then discuss numerous aspects of the behaviour of clefts, including the effects of focus, with a view to how our theory can account for them, tracing, in particular, the predicted parallels between clefts and definite descriptions, and in the course of this uncover arguments against alternative approaches to the semantics of clefts.
2019. “Homogeneity Effects in Natural Language Semantics”. Language and Linguistics Compass.
Natural language sentences in which a property is ascribed to a plurality of objects have truth conditions that are not complementary with the truth conditions of the negations of such sentences. Starting from this observation, this paper presents an overview of so-called homogeneity effects. Arguably a pervasive feature of natural language, homogeneity has reflexes in various domains and opens up a prospect for a unified analysis of phenomena that were hitherto viewed in quite different terms.
2019. (with Lyn Tieu and Emmanuel Chemla) “Children’s acquisition of homogeneity in plural definite descriptions”. Frontiers in Psychology.
Plural definite descriptions give rise to homogeneity effects: the positive The trucks are blue and the negative The trucks aren’t blue are neither true nor false when some of the trucks are blue and some are not, that is, when the group of trucks is not homogeneous with respect to the property of being blue (Löbner 1987, 2000; Schwarzschild 1994; Križ 2015c). The only existing acquisition studies related to the phenomenon have examined children’s comprehension only of the affirmative versions of such sentences, and moreover have yielded conflicting data; while one study reports that preschoolers interpret definite plurals maximally (Munn et al. 2006, see also Royle et al. 2018), two other studies report that preschoolers allow non-maximal interpretations of definite plurals where adults do not (Karmiloff-Smith 1979; Caponigro et al. 2012). Moreover, there is no agreed upon developmental trajectory to adult homogeneity. In this paper, we turn to acquisition data to investigate the predictions of a recent analysis of homogeneity that treats homogeneous meanings as the result of a scalar implicature (Magri 2014). We conducted two experiments targeting 4- and 5-year-old French-speaking children’s interpretations of plural definite descriptions in positive and negative sentences, and tested the same children on standard cases of scalar implicature. The experiments revealed three distinct subgroups of children: those who interpreted the plural definite descriptions existentially and failed to compute implicatures; those who both accessed homogeneous interpretations and computed implicatures; and finally, a smaller subgroup of children who appeared to access homo- geneous interpretations without computing implicatures. We discuss the implications of our findings, which appear to speak against the implicature theory as the adult-like means of generating homogeneous meanings.
2016. “Homogeneity, Non-maximality, and all“. Journal of Semantics 33/3.
This article develops a theory of the non-maximal readings of sentences with plural definite descriptions that treats them as a pragmatic phenomenon that arises from the context-dependent interaction of the well-known homogeneity property of plural predication on the one hand, with independent pragmatic principles on the other. This allows us to, among other things, explain the dual effect of all: as a matter of its semantics, it removes the homogeneity property, but because that is one of the necessary ingredients for non-maximal readings, the function of all as a maximiser/‘slack regulator’ emerges as a consequence. This theory will then be further explored in the context of an improved empirical picture of the homogeneity phenomenon.
2015. (with Emmanuel Chemla) “Two methods to find truth value gaps and their application to the projection problem of homogeneity”. Natural Language Semantics 23/3, pp. 205–248.
Presupposition, vagueness, and oddness can lead to some sentences failing to have a clear truth value. The homogeneity property of plural predication with definite descriptions may also create truth-value gaps: The books are written in Dutch is true if all relevant books are in Dutch, false if none of them are, and neither true nor false if, say, half of the books are written in Dutch. We study the projection property of homogeneity by deploying methods of general interest to identify truth-value gaps. Method A consists in collecting both truth judgments (completely true vs. not completely true) and, independently, falsity judgments (completely false vs. not completely false). The second method, employed in experiment series B and C, is based on one-shot ternary judgments: completely true vs. completely false vs. neither. After a calibration of these methods, we use them to demonstrate that homogeneity projects out of negation, the scope of universal sentences and the scope of non-monotonic quantifiers such as exactly two, to some extent (i.e., in two out of three conceivable kinds of gap situations). We assess our results in light of different theoretical approaches to homogeneity—approaches based on presuppositions, scalar implicatures, and something like supervaluations, respectively. We identify free parameters in these theories and assess various variants of them based on our results. Our experimental paradigms may be of broader significance insofar as they can be applied to other phenomena which result in the failure of a sentence to have a definite truth value.
2013. (with Daniel Büring) “It’s that, and that’s it! Exhaustivity and homogeneity presuppositions in clefts (and definites)”. Semantics & Pragmatics 6.
This paper proposes a way to encode exhaustivity in clefts as a presupposition, something which has been claimed to be adequate, but never successfully implemented. We furthermore show that the facts that prompted the need for such an analysis carry over to identity sentences with definite DPs and propose a way to achieve the same presuppositions for definite DPs.
2017. “In Soviet Russia, Alcohol is Dependent on You”. In: Mayr, Clemens and Edwin Williams (eds.). Festschrift für Martin Prinzhorn. Wiener Linguistische Gazette 82. pp. 172-180.
This note discusses a number of interesting properties of the Russian preposition po as a marker of dependent indefinites. I point out that po differs from similar dependency markers in other languages in certain respects, most importantly its interaction with the trivalence of plural predication, and argue that its properties necessitate an extension of existing formal frameworks that have been used to analyse such dependent indefinites, which will have to be developed in the future. I close with an observation of rather mystifying seemingly non-dependent uses of po, which have not been observed for other dependency markers.
2017. (with Alexandre Cremers and Emmanuel Chemla) “Probability Judgments of Gappy Sentences”. In: Pistoia-Reda, Salvatore and Filippo Domaneschi (eds.). Linguistic and Psycholinguistic Approaches on Implicatures and Presuppositions. Palgrave.
A classical issue in philosophy of language is to determine how to assign probability to conditional sentences. The challenge is to do it in a logically consistent way across conditional sentences and, of course, with empirical adequacy. This issue thus connects work from logic and from psychology of reasoning, in which directly relevant empirical methods were developed. We applied these methods to a broader version of the same question: how do we assign probabilities to (more diverse) sentences, and in particular what happens under the risk of a truth value gap? We show that for the purpose of probability, gap situations may be treated just like true situations, or like false situations or they may be ignored altogether, depending on the phenomenon at the source of the gap. Concretely, vagueness and homogeneity were found to behave in the same way, but to be different from both presuppositions and scalar implicatures, which were also shown to be different from each other. We obtain an original diagnosis that can be added to the linguist toolbox, along with more standard projection tests, to evaluate differences between phenomena.
2017. (with Lyn Tieu) “Connecting the Exhaustivity of Clefts and the Homogeneity of Plural Definite Descriptions in Acquisition”. In: LaMendola, Maria and Jennifer Scott (eds.). BUCLD 41: Proceedings of the 41st annual Boston University Conference on Language Development.
2015. “Homogeneity, Trivalence, and Embedded Questions”. Proceedings of the 20th Amsterdam Colloquium.
Plural predication is known for the homogeneity property: ‘Adam wrote the books’ is true if Adam wrote (roughly) all of the books, but its negation is true only if he wrote (roughly) none of them. Embedded questions show in many ways analogous behaviour: ‘Agatha knows who was at the party’ is intuitively true if Agatha is fully informed about who the guests were, whereas its negation ‘Agatha doesn’t know who was at the party’ conveys that she has pretty much no idea who was there. We argue that the properties of questions in this connection can be explained as a direct consequence of the homogeneity of plural predication once the latter is viewed through the lense of trivalent logic.
2012. “A Probabilistic Dynamic Approach to Epistemic Modality”. In: R. K. Rendsvig and Katenko, S. (eds.), Proccedings of the ESSLLI 2012 Student Session, Opole, Poland.