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.
2016. (with Brian Buccola and Emmanuel Chemla) “Conceptual Alternatives”. Manuscript, LSCP.
Competition between sentences is at the core of numerous phenomena in natural language semantics. For instance, the competition between sentences such as Some of the shapes are red and All the shapes are red is taken to explain why an utterance of the former implicates that the latter is false. It is generally assumed that such competition is regulated by the relative syntactic simplicity of the competing utterances. Using theoretical and experimental tools devised to study human non-linguistic, conceptual abilities, we provide evidence for a new perspective: the rules that govern competition in natural language may be better and more deeply understood as rooted in relative conceptual simplicity, and thus are inherited from non-linguistic domains. We also provide evidence that the various construals of numerals preferentially attested in human language may likewise be rooted in non-linguistic, conceptual preferences.
2015. (with Lyn Tieu and Emmanuel Chemla) “Children’s acquisition of homogeneity in plural definite descriptions”. Manuscript, LSCP.
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, i.e. when the group of trucks is not homogeneous with respect to the property of being blue (among others Schwarzschild 1994 and Löbner 2000; for experimental evidence of this truth value gap, see Križ & Chemla 2015). A recent account of homogeneity posits that definite plurals have a literal existential meaning that can be strengthened to the universal meaning through a scalar implicature (Magri 2014). In this study, we investigated preschool-aged children’s comprehension of plural definite descriptions of non-homogeneous contexts. We conducted two experiments with 4- and 5-year-old French-speaking children, one using a standard Truth Value Judgment Task (Crain & Thornton 1998) and one using a ternary judgment task (Katsos & Bishop 2011). The experiments revealed three distinct subgroups of children who differed in how they interpreted plural definite descriptions and standard cases of scalar implicatures. One group of children both interpreted the definite plurals existentially and failed to compute scalar implicatures. Another group of children accessed homogeneous interpretations and computed implicatures. A smaller subgroup of children appeared to access homogeneous interpretations without computing implicatures. We discuss the implications of our findings for theories of homogeneity, and in particular for the implicature theory of homogeneity, proposing that such a theory has a role to play in children’s development of homogeneity.
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.