Super Linguistics Colloquium Series

Spring 2021 Schedule

Note: If not indicated otherwise, talks will take place on Zoom. The time zone is Central European Time (Oslo local time). If you would like to attend the talk, please send an email to Pritty Patel-Grosz

Friday, January 22 nd , 5.00pm - 7.00pm (please note that we start at 5pm sharp)
Gabriel Greenberg (UCLA), Patrick G. Grosz (UiO), Elsi Kaiser (USC), Christian De Leon (UCLA)
Title: A semantics of face emoji in discourse
In this talk, we argue that face emoji (😀,😟) are a part of multi-modal discourse and express emotional attitudes. We argue that they comment on the text that they accompany, and that they are more constrained - in semantically interesting ways - than one might initially expect. We hypothesize that they denote functions from individuals x (attitude holders), propositions p, and questions, Q to sets of situations in which the individual x holds an emotional attitude (e.g. happy or unhappy) about how the proposition p resolves the question Q.  The discourse contribution of an emoji is to add this denotation, as applied to a proposition typically expressed by the preceding clause, to the author’s discourse commitments. We argue that this analysis derives a range of interesting constraints, including [i.] positioning constraints of emoji with regards to the text that they accompany, [ii.] apparently direct interactions of emoji with lexical material in the accompanying text (including the scalar operator ‘only’), [iii.] and a range of apparent mixed-emotion uses of face emoji.
Friday, February 5th, 3.00pm - 5.00pm 
Robert Seyfarth (University of Pennsylvania)
Title: The Social Origins of Language
Despite their differences, human language and the vocal communication of nonhuman primates share many features. Both constitute forms of coordinated activity, rely on many shared neural mechanisms, and involve discrete, combinatorial cognition that includes rich pragmatic inference. These common features suggest that during evolution the ancestors of all modern primates faced similar social problems and responded with similar systems of communication and cognition. When language later evolved from this common foundation, many of its distinctive features were already present.
Friday, February 12th, 3.00pm - 5.00pm  
Artemis Alexiadou (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin/Leibniz-ZAS) and Uli Sauerland (Leibniz-ZAS)
Title: Meaning-First meets Super Linguistics
In a recent paper, we presented a Meaning-First approach (MFA) to grammar (Sauerland & Alexiadou 2020, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.571295). In this talk, we discuss the potential this view might have to generate perspectives and research questions for super-linguistic phenomena. The three relevant assumptions of the MFA are the following: i) complex thought-structure generation is independent of language and occurs in species other than humans, ii) humans can communicate thoughts by compression into an articulateable form, and iii) cognitive systems other than logical thought can (and do) intrude in the compression / articulation process adding a socio-emotive dimension. After introducing the MFA, we argue that phenomena involving different communicative modalities can easily be accommodated in the MFA because language-independent representations are central to it. Two specific applications of the MFA, we then discuss are a) an account of multi-modal code-blending as parallel compression (Branchini & Donati 2016, 10.5334/gjgl.29) and b) the interaction between ellipsis and the intrusion of socio-emotive content.
Friday, March 19th, 3.00pm - 5.00pm 
Paul Pietroski (Rutgers University)
Title: The Extension Dogma
In studies of meaning, linguists and philosophers have often followed Donald Davidson and David Lewis in assuming that whatever meanings are--if there are any--they determine extensions, at least relative to contexts. After reviewing some reasons for rejecting this assumption, which is especially unfriendly to mentalistic conceptions of meaning, I'll suggest that this assumption became prevalent for bad reasons. As time permits, I'll conclude by reviewing some work which suggests that even if we focus on quantificational determiners, mentalistic conceptions of meaning are motivated and The Extension Dogma should be abandoned.
Friday, March 26th, 3.00pm-5.00pm
Sigrid Beck (Universität Tübingen); joint work with Mathias Bauer (Universität Tübingen) 
Title: Multiple contexts in drama: Henry V 
We develop an analysis of how multiple contexts interact in literary dialogue, as we witness it in drama. Minimally, an internal context in which the characters of the play interact has to be considered as well as an external context in which the hearer in the context is the play's audience. Pragmatic mechanisms like presupposition, anti-presupposition and implicature, as we find them in Shakespeare’s Henry V, are shown to exploit the multiple contexts involved, in such a way as to inform the literary interpretation of the play.
Friday, April 16th, 3.00pm - 5.00pm  
Sotaro Kita (University of Warwick)
Title: Children create design features of language
Why does language have the universal properties that it has? I will provide evidence for the idea that some of the design features of language (Hockett, 1956) have emerged (partly) due to children's tendency to shape communication systems into "language-like" ones. I will discuss evidence from an emerging sign language (Nicaraguan Sign Language), children's gestural communication when speech is not available, and children's use of sound symbolic words, in which the word sounds like what it means.
Friday, May 21st, 3.00pm - 5.00pm  
Emmanuel Chemla (CNRS)
Title: Connectedness: a cognitive primitive as revealed by language, and found elsewhere (namely, with baboons)
Imagine a word, say 'blicket', that would mean "apple or banana": apples are blickets, and bananas are blickets. Intuitively, 'blicket' is a strange word, it refers to a concept that is unnatural. Why? It has been claimed that words must correspond to "connected" concepts: if apples are blickets and bananas are blickets, then anything in between an apple and a banana should also be a blicket; so if blicket was to be a more traditional word, it may have to include all fruits, not only apples and bananas. By and large, simple "content words", concrete nouns and adjectives, have connected meanings (cf. extensive philosophical work by Gardenförs, and much work in other domains such as computational psychology, language acquisition, or computer science).

Starting from there, we will formalize a notion of connectedness that applies to any type of word, not only content words. We will find that logical words (in particular quantifiers, such as 'all', 'some', 'none' in English), appear to also be connected across languages. We will provide evidence that non-human animals (specifically, baboons, papio papio) tend to form categories that are connected in the same sense, and argue that this tendency may reveal what are natural classes of objects (content word like) or natural classes of patterns (function word like).
Friday, June 4th, 3.00pm - 5.00pm 
Valentina Colasanti  (Trinity College Dublin - University of Dublin)
Title: Syntactically-integrated co-speech gestures: some preliminary evidence from the languages of Southern Italy

Are gestures syntactically integrated? In recent years gestures have been a topic of much interest in formal linguistics, especially with respect to their semantic and pragmatic contribution (Ebert and Ebert 2014; Schlenker 2018; Esipova 2019; i.a.). A consistent observation within this literature is that the semantic content of gestures is integrated into the meaning of spoken utterances; hence, gesture can behave like speech, e.g. in presenting the same kind of semantic behaviour (taking scope, projecting, etc.).

One way to explain the semantic integration of gestures is to treat them as part of the grammar: namely, if gestures can participate in semantic relations, it is because they appear in syntactic representations. In particular, since gestures are performed with the same articulators as sign languages (e.g. hands, eyebrows), this would mean that syntactic features are externalised at the PF interface as gesture (visual-gestural modality) rather than as speech (auditory modality). From this we would expect syntax to be modality-blind, a result that appears to be correct.

In this talk, I will present preliminary results from an ongoing experiment on the status of a particular co-speech gesture, Mano a Borsa (MAB) or ‘pursed hand’, in Neapolitan (Italo-Romance).  MAB arises frequently in interrogative contexts, but its precise syntactic, semantic, and lexical properties are unclear. This experiment pursues the following research questions: (A) what is the clause-type distribution of MAB? (B) where may it be aligned temporally within the spoken utterance? (C) is MAB an underspecified wh-item? Starting with the last question first, I will present early results suggesting that MAB appears to exhibit the same syntactic distribution as a wh-phrase, raising questions about its lexical status. While the simplest conclusion might be that MAB is a sort of underspecified wh-item, in the talk I will discuss whether MAB might instead be the realization of a particular flavour of interrogative C, consistent with its preference for interrogative environments (cf. question A), and its apparent ability to align with the beginning of the clause, even in wh-in-situ contexts (cf. question B).



Autumn 2020 Schedule

Spring 2020 Schedule

Autumn 2019 Schedule

Spring 2019 Schedule


Naomi Francis
Published Jan. 13, 2021 7:04 PM - Last modified June 2, 2021 11:09 AM