Invited speaker (Alexandre Cremers) at the Semantics Research Group – May 23rd & 25th

Alexandre Cremers will be visiting and is giving two talks in the semantics research group. They will take place on May 23rd and 25th at 3pm in 117. Details below. All are welcome!


Wednesday, May 23, Title: Testing the QUD sensitivity of modified numerals

Abstract: Modified numerals, such as “at least 3” or “less than 5”, tend to trigger ignorance inferences. Geurts&Nouwen (2007) famously argued that these ignorance inferences are stronger with superlative “at least” than with comparative “more than”, and proposed a modal denotation for “at least” which semantically encoded the ignorance inference. Since then, competing accounts have been proposed which aim to derive all ignorance inferences as implicatures, keeping very simple denotations for “at least” and “more than”. In this talk, I will first present experimental work showing that (a) there is indeed a difference between “at least” and “more than”, but (b) against the predictions of a purely semantic account, the ignorance inference of “at least” is not so strong, and is affected by QUD. Along the way, we also show a contrast between “at least/more than” on the one hand, and “at most/fewer than” on the other hand, as well as some interesting results with bare numerals. No current theory can fully account for the results, but a few are very promising.


Friday, May 25, Title: The Exhaustivity of Embedded question: Experimental investigations and theoretical consequences

Abstract: Verbs such as ‘know’ can relate an agent to a question, as in “Mary knows who dances”. The meaning of such sentences has been strongly debated with proponents of a ‘weak exhaustive’ reading (Karttunen, 1977, Berman, 1991), or of a ‘strong exhaustive’ reading (Groenendijk&Stokhof, 1982). To further complicate the matter, an ‘intermediate exhaustive’ reading has also been proposed (Spector, 2005).

In this talk, I will present experimental evidence from adult and children understanding of embedded questions showing that all three readings are possible, but suggesting that the weak exhaustive reading is “basic” while the other two are derived by a strengthening mechanism similar to implicatures (exhaustification). I will then discuss what an exhaustification theory for embedded questions should look like and address several challenges that have been raised against such approaches.


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