Colloquium, 2/26 — Viola Schmitt

Our next talk in the 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Viola Schmitt (Humboldt University Berlin) on Friday, February 26th at 3:30pm. The title of the talk is “Are worlds special?”. The abstract can be found at the end of this message.

Viola is interested in meeting with students and faculty. If you are interested in setting up a meeting with her, please contact Masashi Harada by next Monday with a list of your availability on February 26th from 10:00 – 13:30.

If you have not yet registered for the colloquium series, please do so here (you only need to register once for the 2020-2021 year). For more information on upcoming events in the McGill Linguistics department, please see our website.

This talk (which owes a lot to current joint projects with Nina Haslinger, Eva Rosina, Tim Stowell and Valerie Wurm) addresses an apparent gap in an otherwise apparently robust pattern, namely, that all semantic domains contain pluralities (or at least objects with a non-trivial part structure). In the individual domain, plurality-denoting expressions have a number of well-known characteristic properties (see Link 1983 for a general discussion): On the one hand, we have properties that are intuitively related to the presence of a part-whole relation – plurality- denoting expressions can partake in cumulative readings (Scha 1981 a.m.o.) and be targeted by certain adverbs that seem to directly appeal to their part-structure (Link 1987, Zimmermann 2002 a.o.). On the other hand, a subset of plurality-denoting expressions – namely, definite plurals and individual conjunctions – can give rise to homogeneity effects (Löbner 2000, Schwarzschild 1993, Križ 2015 a.o.) and some of these expressions sometimes permit non-maximal predication (Brisson 1998, Malamud 2012, Križ 2016 a.o.). My first point will be to show that if we consider the first set of tests, the notion of plurality (or rather, some form of part-structure) is pretty much persistent across semantic domains: It looks like we find pluralities in the domains of a number other ‘primitives’, like events, degrees and times (see Landman 2000, Dotlacˇil & Nouwen 2016, Artstein & Francez 2006 a.m.o. for discussion of different types of such primitives), as well as in ‘functional’ domains like those of predicates of individuals, propositions, question denotations, quantifiers or individual concepts (see Schmitt 2019, 2020, Beck & Sharvit 2002, Haslinger 2019, Haslinger & Schmitt to appear for discussion of different aspects of this claim). I will then argue, based on data from German, that the best candidates for world-pluralities fail these tests. First, it has been argued that the antecedents of (indicative) conditionals denote (definite) pluralities of worlds (see Schlenker (2004), Kaufmann (2017), Križ (2018, 2019)) because they exhibit two traits of plurality: Homogeneity and non- maximality (see in particular Križ (2018) for these points and Gajewski (2005) for relevant connected observations). Second, neg-raising constructions with attitude verbs have been discussed as potentially involving world-pluralities, with neg-raising being a potential instance of homogeneity (see Križ (2015) for a discussion of this possibility). However, neither construction allows for cumulative readings that appeal to parts of world pluralities (rather than, say, pluralities of propositions). Furthermore, adverbs sensitive to part-structure which, in all other cases, seem to be pretty much category blind, cannot access parts of world pluralities. The last part of the talk will probe the consequences of these findings. (Warning: I don’t really have a solution, yet, just some speculations.)

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