The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingPhil Reading Group 11/20 - on Koev (under review)

Title: Discussion of Koev (under review): Parentheticality and Assertion Strength
Date and time: Monday November 20, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

The traditional picture in linguistics and philosophy is that descriptive content and illocutionary force are cleanly separated. This paper argues that this orthodoxy is incorrect: descriptive content can modify the strength of the main assertion of the sentence, thus blurring the boundary between semantics and pragmatics. One prominent such case are sentences with SLIFTING PARENTHETICALS (e.g. The dean, Jill said, greeted the secretary; Ross 1973), which grammaticalize an intriguing interaction between compositional meaning and speech act function. In such sentences, the main clause (the non-parenthetical part of the sentence) pragmatically depends on the parenthetical, which provides evidential information. The discourse effect of this setup is that slifting parentheticals modulate the strength with which the main clause is asserted (cf. Urmson 1952; Asher 2000; Rooryck 2001; Jayez & Rossari 2004; Davis et al. 2007; Simons 2007; Murray 2014; Maier & Bary 2015; AnderBois 2016; Hunter 2016). Building on Lewis (1976) and Davis et al. (2007), this paper develops a probabilistic dynamic model that captures the role of parentheticality as a language tool for qualifying commitments. The model also derives three properties that set apart slifting sentences from regular embedding constructions (e.g. Jill said that the dean greeted the secretary), i.e. (i) the fact that slifting parentheticals invariably express upward-entailing operators, (ii) the fact that they modify root clauses and do not occur in subordinate clauses, and (iii) the fact that slifted claims are more difficult to reject or doubt by the speaker than claims expressed in complement clauses.

The discussion will be lead by Maša