Co-organized with Marie-Christine Meyer and Daniel Rothschild
May 30-31, 2016 @ ZAS Berlin
Standard semantic theories model the meaning of a sentence as a proposition. In contrast to this static view, dynamic frameworks tie sentential meaning more closely to the way sentences change the conversational background. Most famously, this is done by modeling the meaning of a sentence as an instruction for updating the context. The shift in focus away from propositional content towards update rules has inspired influential new approaches to phenomena ranging from presupposition and anaphora to conditionals and epistemic modality. With this workshop, we aim to explore and re-evaluate foundational issues of the dynamic program from both an empirical and a conceptual perspective.
- Workshop website here
Philosophy of language meets neurolinguistics
Seminar: Graduate level
One aim of contemporary formal semantics and philosophy of language is to explain how we use natural languages. This requires building models of how we represent and compute the meanings of various types of complex expressions, including those involving adjectives, adverbs, and quantifiers. It is often extremely hard to come up with empirical evidence to discriminate between competing models. However, recent advances in Cognitive Neuroscience allow us to consider a wider and richer array of data, and many scientists claim that neuroscientific data will prove to be crucial for the advancement of the cognitive sciences, including the study of language. The aim of this course is to consider various competing models of natural language phenomena that have played an important role in philosophy and linguistics, and then critically examine recent neuroscientific experiments that aim to discriminate amongst them. The class will be divided into various case studies, and at each stage we will critically examine the conditions under which neuroscientific data can be usefully applied to advance the cognitive science of language. We will also explore fundamental philosophical topics such as reductionism and multiple-realizability.
- Class syllabus here
Formal semantics as cognitive science
Seminar: Intro to formal semantics for graduate level philosophers and cognitive scientists
The main goal of this course is to introduce students to the field of Natural Language Semantics. This course can be used as a preparation for further research for students who want to specialize in Semantics and related fields such as Philosophy of Language and the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language. To achieve basic semantic literacy, the course will cover the tools and concepts of logic and mathematics currently used in formal semantic research, e.g., basic set theory and lambda calculus. To learn how to apply these tools, the course will examine particular natural language constructions such as quantification and adjectival/adverbial modification. We will also discuss some controversial foundational and empirical issues regarding the semantic structure of lexical items and the combinatorial operations which determine the meaning of phrases.
- Class syllabus here
Language and natural logic
At Sinn und Bedeutung 21, Sept 10, 2017
This workshop will gather philosophers and linguists to explore foundational issues on the interaction between language and natural logic, i.e., the component of the mind/brain that governs reason and inference. Philosophers have been traditionally concerned with the underlying logical form of natural languages; and at least since Frege, have debated whether, and which, formal languages we should use to model them. Further, a foundational assumption of contemporary linguistic theory is that natural languages can be modeled with certain formal languages/logics. Still, important figures in both fields, including Fodor and Chomsky, reject key aspects of this approach. This workshop will bring philosophers and linguistics to discuss these issues around three fundamental questions:
- Is there such a thing as natural logic, a component of the mind brain that we might call logical or formal?
- What is the relation between natural languages and natural logic, and what are the basic properties of natural logic?
- How do we distinguish inferences derived by NL+language from inferences derived with the help of other cognitive systems?
These questions can now be addressed at an unprecedented level of precision. Recent developments in formal semantics and pragmatics have led to refined models of the interaction between grammar/ compositional semantics and natural logic, including specific hypothesis about the properties and role of the latter. For example, Fox and Hackl argue that there is a level of representation at which the numerical operations of language see only dense scales. Chierchia, Fox, and others argue that scalar implicatures are computed within the grammar, i.e., compositionally. Crain and Pietroski defend a version of logical nativism according to which the hypothesis space that children consider when acquiring the meaning of connectives such as 'and'/'or' is massively, perhaps uniquely, constrained. According to these researchers, natural logic is deeply intertwined with processes that are essentially linguistic. Each of these positions remains deeply controversial, but they have reached a level of precision that allows us, in light of them, to deeply and usefully engage with questions (1)-(3).
- Workshop website here