The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Chatain defends!

Another great August dissertation defense. On August 27, Keny Chatain defended with the greatest possible success his dissertation entitled “Cumulativity from Homogeneity”.

Cumulativity is a central, yet extremely puzzling phenomenon in plural semantics which has prompted radical overhauls and enrichments of canonical assumptions about predicate denotations (lexical semantics) and semantic composition. Despite these (often heavy-handed) efforts, a treatment that is both empirically and theoretically satisfying has proven illusive.
The dissertation approaches cumulativity from a new perspective, pointing out and exploiting close and systematic parallels with homogeneity phenomena in plural semantics. From this perspective, plural predication contributes only weak (existential) truth-conditions which are directly detectable in negative environments but strengthened, hence masked by exhaustive participation inferences in canonical positive sentences. This two-pronged mechanism paves the way for a principled account of what aspects of lexical semantics are responsible for cumulative readings and why, as well as the precise way in which they rely on the structural configuration feeding semantic composition.

The resulting proposal is developed with remarkable clarity and penetrating insight into the empirical phenomena as well as the space of analytical options, has far reaching consequences for all areas of (plural) semantics, and — in the opinion of his committee — is sure to become a landmark in this domain of inquiry.

Félicitations, Keny!! Congratulations!!


The official abstract:

“Since Schein (1996), cumulative readings of quantifiers have often motivated a departure from standard assumptions about composition. This dissertation proposes a new theory of these cumulative readings that connects them to the phenomenon of homogeneity. Specifically, taking inspiration from Bar-Lev (2018), I argue that predicates sometimes have weak existential meanings, which are revealed when placed under negation. The stronger meaning observed in positive sentences are the result of a procedure of exhaustification. By recognizing predicates’ underlying weak meanings and their liability to strengthening, cumulative reading of quantifiers can be accounted for by maintaining relatively standard assumptions about composition. This analysis predicts a range of intricate cases, including Schein’s famous video-game examples. It also predicts the truth-conditions of negative cumulative sentences and asymmetries in the availability of cumulative readings of quantifiers.”