The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LF Reading Group 5/11 - Patrick Elliott (MIT)

Speaker: Patrick Elliott (MIT)
Title: Partee conjunctions and free choice with anaphora
Time: Wednesday, May 11th, 1pm – 2pm

Abstract: In this talk, I’ll explore the interaction between epistemic modality and anaphoric information. To set the stage, consider two seemingly uncontroversial assumptions typically made about possibility statements. (i) possibility modals close off anaphoric information (1), and (ii) possibility modals are holes for presupposition projection – in order to accept (2) we must accommodate the existence of a bathroom.

(1) ?There might be a bathroom and it’s upstairs. (2) The bathroom might be upstairs.

I’ll argue that neither assumption holds up under scrutiny, on the basis of ‘Partee conjunctions’ – conjunctions of possibility statements which alternately pattern with conjunction (3) or disjunction (4) with respect to anaphora. In order to account for this data, I’ll develop a new account of epistemic modals in a Strong Kleene update semantics.

(3) It’s possible there’s a bathroom, and it’s possible it’s upstairs (cf. there’s a bathroom and it’s upstairs). (4) It’s possible there’s no bathroom, and it’s possible it’s upstairs (cf. either there’s no bathroom or it’s upstairs)

We’ll explore an application of the resulting system to the problem of free choice with anaphora, illustrated in (5). I suggest that the observed FC inferences can’t easily be captured by theories stated in terms of disjunctive simplification. Instead, I’ll sketch a conservative extension of Goldstein’s (2019) dynamic theory, incorporating the insights provided by Partee conjunctions.

(5) It’s possible that either there’s no bathroom or it’s upstairs. -> It’s possible that there’s no bathroom. -> It’s possible that there’s a bathroom upstairs.