Archive | August 2015

September 7th: Brian Buccola (McGill) – Utrecht

We are happy to announce that on Monday, September 7th, Brian Buccola (McGill, Montréal) will give a LUSH talk in Utrecht. We hope to see you all there!

Date: Monday, September 7th, 2015

Time: 15:30 – 17:00

Location: Utrecht, Trans 10, room 0.19 (A.W. de Grootkamer)

Speaker: Brian Buccola

Title: Maximal informativity and numeral modifiers: the case of “between”

Abstract: The semantics of numeral modifiers (“more/less than”, “up to”, “between”, etc.) has received a lot of attention in recent years (Geurts and Nouwen 2007; Nouwen 2008; Nouwen 2010; Schwarz, Buccola, and Hamilton 2012; Rett 2014; Kennedy 2015). In this talk, I will argue that the semantics of at least one numeral modifier (“between”) makes reference to an ‘informativity’-based ordering of numbers (relative to some property of numbers), rather than to the natural ordering of numbers. Support for this claim comes from a new paradigm of data involving numerals modified by “between”: depending on their linguistic environment, modified numerals of the form “between m and n” sometimes convey an upper bound (maximality), other times a lower bound (minimality), and still other times neither. For instance, the sentence “Between five and ten guests arrived late” indicates that the maximum (or total) number of guests who arrived late is between five and ten, whereas the sentence “Between five and ten potatoes can fill that sack” indicates that the minimum number of potatoes that can fill that sack is between five and ten. Conversely, the sentence “Between five and ten students lifted the piano together” conveys neither maximality nor minimality: it is compatible with, say, a group of three students or a group of twelve students having lifted the piano (or both), just as long as at least one group of five to ten students did so too. Theories in which “between” lexically encodes a ‘standard’ maximality operator (i.e. one based on the natural ordering of numbers) fail to derive minimal readings. Building on previous works that deal with similar ‘flips’ between maximality and minimality (Beck and Rullmann 1999; von Fintel, Fox, and Iatridou 2014), I propose that the lexical semantics of “between” instead involves an ‘informativity’-based maximality component. The crux of the proposal is that, for a number to be maximally informative (relative to a property of numbers), sometimes it must be the largest, other times the smallest, and still other times it need not be either, depending on the relevant numerical property. (This work builds on recent joint work with Benjamin Spector.)