The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

24.979 Topics in Semantics: The Linguistics of the Conversational Scoreboard

24.979 Topics in Semantics: The Linguistics of the Conversational Scoreboard
Kai von Fintel, Sabine Iatridou, Justin Khoo
Fridays 12-3, 32D-461

Short abstract: “Wait till you hear what Kai, Sabine, and Justin are learning about discourse and language. You won’t believe what happens next.”

There are linguistic phenomena (discourse particles, evidentials, speaker comments, sentence mood (?) etc.) that do not appear to contribute to the standard truth-conditional denotation of sentences but rather seem to be involved in the pragmatic deployment of these sentences in an evolving conversation. We’re planning to look at some recent work that tackles these kinds of items. Here is a small sample:

Krifka, Manfred. 2013. Embedding illocutionary acts. to appear in revised form in a volume ed. by Margaret Speas and Tom Roeper, Recursion: Complexity in Cognition, Springer. (pdf)

Yablo, Stephen. 2011. A problem about permission and possibility. In Andy Egan & Brian Weatherson (eds.), Epistemic modality. Oxford University Press.

Portner, Paul. 2007. Imperatives and modals. Natural Language Semantics 15(4). 351–383.

Farkas, Donka F. & Kim B. Bruce. 2009. On reacting to assertions and polar questions. Journal of Semantics 27(1). 81–118.

Murray, Sarah E. 2014 (to appear). Varieties of update. Semantics and Pragmatics 7(1). 1–55. (pdf)

Eckardt, Regine. 2014. Speaker commentary items. ms.

Dever, Josh. 2013. The revenge of the semantics-pragmatics distinction. Philosophical Perspectives 27(1). 104–144.

Our plan this semester is to engage with that new literature. We’ll start by talking about some historical and theoretical background. Then, we’ll tackle the new work, reflect on it, and situate it within a framework of big issues, such as “must semantics be dynamic?”. We will look at syntax, semantics, pragmatics, philosophy, whatever is of relevance. This will be an interdisciplinary joyride.

Readings to be announced as we move along. They will be available via Stellar.