Archive | November 2012

December 13: Sammie Tarenskeen (RU Nijmegen) – UiL OTS

We’re happy to announce that on Thursday, December 13, Sammie Tarenskeen (Radboud University Nijmegen) will give a LUSH talk in Utrecht entitled The whens and whys of referential overspecification. Hope to see you all there!

Date: Thursday, December 13, 2012

Time: 15:00-17:00

Location: Utrecht, Kromme Nieuwegracht 80, room 1.06 (Ravesteijnkamer)

When uttered in a context with a single toy rabbit among several other stuffed animals, the boldfaced referring expression (henceforth RE) in sentence (1) is overspecified.

(1)       Can you pass me the pink rabbit?

A substantial number of studies, conducted over the past decades, have shown that overspecified REs are way more common than had been assumed before. This assumption stems from the second Gricean maxim of quantity, which says:

(2)       Do not make your contribution more informative than is required
(for the current purposes of the exchange).

Although Gricean maxims apply to speech acts as a whole only, it seems reasonable to assume that there is a similar mechanism available which yields omission of overspecified REs such as in (1). After all, the hearer can do without the extra information and the speaker could save herself the effort of including it. Moreover, the hearer may draw inferences from the extra information, analogously to Gricean implicatures, which were not intended by the speakers. This could even lead to confusion and miscommunication.

Reasonable or not, experimental findings suggest that the Gricean-based assumption, though not downright false, is problematic: in several studies, speakers produced more overspecified than minimally specified REs. In this talk, I will give an overview of the most interesting findings from experimental production studies that have investigated the effect of certain contextual factors on referential overspecification. It will be shown that colour has a special role to play in the story. For example, colour overspecification has turned out to be far more common than overspecification of other attributes, such as size, shape, and material. Finally, I will discuss possible answers to the question why speakers produce overspecified REs and make some suggestions about what kind of answers are, in my opinion, on the right track.

Special announcement: talk by Yoad Winter on December 11

The research project Between Logic and Common Sense (UiL OTS) is organizing a special talk on Tuesday, December 11 by Yoad Winter (Utrecht University) entitled Event Orientated Adnominals and Compositionality (joint work with Joost Zwarts). Everyone is welcome to attend! Note the different timeslot.

Location: Utrecht, Janskerkhof 13, room 0.06 (Stijlkamer)

Time: 13:30 – 15:30


We extend Larson’s (1998) treatment of event modification in nominals like beautiful dancer and heavy smoker to other adnominals as in the destroyer of Rome in 410. We address three problems for Larson’s liberal modification of events: reference determination in nominals, absence of event readings with non-deverbal nouns, and the ordering of event modifiers before modifiers of thematic arguments. We standardly assume that eventive -er nominals, like other nominalizations, inherit the verb’s argument structure. We show a compositional treatment of event  modification that explains why -er nominals must refer to the external argument of the verb, and not to the event. Solving this puzzle about the syntax-semantics of -er nominals is crucial for avoiding the aforementioned problems. We then discuss possible generalizations of our proposal to temporal modifiers with relational nouns (new president, champion in 1981) and agent-oriented modifiers (dance skillfully, deliberate offender).

You can find a more elaborate abstract here:

December 6: Heather Burnett (Jean Nicod Institute, Paris) – UiL OTS

We’re happy to announce that on Thursday, December 6, Heather Burnett (Jean Nicod Institute, Paris) will give a LUSH talk in Utrecht entitled On the logical, grammatical and cognitive foundations of adjectival scale structure. Hope to see you all there!

Date: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Time: 15:00-17:00

Location: Janskerkhof 13, room 0.06


In this presentation, I present a new theory of the relationship between context-sensitivity, vagueness, and adjectival scale structure. From an empirical point of view, I argue that the four principle subclasses of adjectival predicates (relative ad-jectives (ex. tall), total absolute adjectives (ex. dry), partial absolute adjectives (ex. wet), and non-scalar adjectives (ex. atomic)) can be distinguished along three dimensions: 1) how their criteria of application can vary depending on context; 2) how they display the characteristic properties of vague language; and 3) what the properties of their associated orders (a.k.a. scales) are. It has been known for a long time in the literature (cf. Unger (1975), Pinkal (1995), Kennedy (2007), a.o.) thatthere exist connections between context-sensitivity, vagueness, and scale structure; however, a formal system that expresses these connections has yet to be developed.By combining insights into the relationship between context-sensitivity and scalarity from the delineation semantics framework (Klein (1980), a.o.) with insights intothe relationship between tolerance relations and the Sorites paradox from Cobreros,Égré, Ripley & van Rooij (2012)’s Tolerant, Classical, Strict (TCS) framework, Ipropose such a logical system. Using this framework, I show that the association ofparticular classes of adjectives with their particular kinds of scales can be derived from their context-sensitivity and vagueness properties. In other words, I argue that from independently necessary theories of context-sensitivity and vagueness, we arrive at a full theory of gradability and scale structure in the adjectival domain.

November 29: Sascha Morel (Utrecht University) – UiL OTS

We’re happy to announce that on Thursday, November 29, Sascha Morel (Utrecht University)  will give a LUSH talk in Utrecht entitled Sensitivity to reference frame and distance variations in processing topological and projective prepositions. Hope to see you all there!

Date: Thursday, November 29, 2012

Time: 15:15-17:00

Location: Drift 25, room 105


Spatial prepositions describe how one object (the figure) is related in space to another object (the ground). They fall into two global classes: topological (T) prepositions (like in and on) and projective (P) prepositions (like above and behind).  Differences between these groups of prepositions are found in multiple domains. Whereas topological prepositions are defined in terms of notions like inclusion and contiguity, projective prepositions are defined in terms of particular axes or angles.  In language use, topological prepositions are often short words occurring with high frequency, while projective prepositions are often more complex and of lower frequency.

The foregoing raises the possibility that distinct cognitive subsystems might underlie the processing of topological and projective prepositions.  The present study intends to further illuminate the cognitive foundations of the distinction.  We focus on the effects of reference frame transformations. While understanding of projective prepositions is thought to be sensitive to the intrinsic or absolute orientation of the ground, and hence to rotations of the ground, understanding of topological prepositions may remain invariant when the ground is rotated. To explore the T/P distinction, invariance under rotation is examined by using three different experimental designs based on sentence-scene stimuli. The influence of intrinsic and absolute reference frames on the acceptability of Dutch “op” and “boven” by rotating the scenes is investigated in a blocked (T and P sentences are presented in different blocks), a mixed (T and P sentences are presented at random) and a production design (participants can choose between on/above /none).

November 13, 2012: Hedde Zeijlstra (University of Amsterdam) — LUCL

We are very happy to announce that Hedde Zeijlstra (University of Amsterdam) will be giving a LUSH talk entitled Universal NPIs and PPIs.

Time: 11:00 – 13:00

Location:  LEIDEN, Lipsius, room 002


In the domain of existential quantifiers over individuals, both Negative Polarity Items (NPIs), such as English anybody, and Positive Polarity Items (PPIs), such as someone, are attested. However, no universal quantifier over individuals seems to behave like an NPI or PPI.

In the domain of deontic modals, things are however, different: here some universals can be PPIs (e.g. English must) or NPIs (e.g. English need), but no existential deontic NPIs or PPIs have been attested.

In this talk, I argue that one of the well-known explanations for NPI-hood, namely Chierchia’s (2006, 2011) account in terms of domain widening and obligatory exhaustification) actually predicts the existence of universal PPIs. I demonstrate that those deontic modals that are PPIs are indeed PPIs for the same reason that English any-terms are NPIs.

This result gives rise to two questions. First why does it look like there are no quantifiers over individuals that exhibit PPI-hood? And, second, how should the NPI-/PPI-hood of those NPIs/PPS be explained that do not follow from Chierchia’s account.

In the remainder of this talk, I first discuss that, despite appearances, universal PPIs that quantify over individuals do exist, but that the morphosyntactic differences between such PPIs and the modal PPIs make that the former but not the latter display the typical PPI-like behaviour that is standardly taken as a diagnostic.

Second, I show that existential PPIs and universal NPIs must exhibit NPI/PPI-like properties for different reason than their mirror images (existential NPIs, universal PPIs) and that this makes testable predictions with respect to the strength of their NPI-/PPI-hood.