The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 3/15 - Robert Pasternak

Speaker: Robert Pasternak (Stony Brook/MIT)
Title: Want comparatives and the natural language metaphysics of desire
Date and time: Wednesday, March 15, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Bach (1986) famously argues that part of the task of model-theoretic semantics is to engage in what he refers to as natural language metaphysics: in short, the determination of what sorts of objects and relations must be included in our model in order to account for the full range of possible meanings in natural language. In this talk, I will propose a natural language metaphysics of desire states—-and a semantics of want to go with it—-in which the intensity of desire tracks the part-whole relations of a desire state in a particular dimension. This is based on two independent observations from the literature. The first is that want can appear in comparatives in which the intensity of desire is being compared (Villalta 2008, Lassiter 2011):

1. Ann wants to leave more than Mary wants to stay.

The second observation is that verbal comparatives require that the measure functions used track part-whole relations of eventualities (Nakanishi 2007, Wellwood et al. 2012, Wellwood 2015). Hence, (2) can be a comparison of the time or distance of Ann’s and Mary’s running (since a running event covers more time/distance than its proper parts), but not the speed:

2. Ann ran more than Mary did.

If this constraint is to hold more generally, and if want comparatives—-which by all appearances are verbal comparatives—-allow for a comparison of intensity, then intensity of desire must track part-whole relations of desire states. After illustrating what such a natural language metaphysics might look like, as well as how the denotation of want interacts with the part-whole structure of such states, I then show how this view can be folded in with von Fintel’s (1999) broadly Hintikkan semantics of want, in which the denotation of want universally quantifies over bouletically ideal worlds.


Written by mitya

March 13th, 2017 at 6:04 am

Posted in Talks