Semantics Research Group Meeting, July 8, 2011

[Japanese | English]

3:30pm, July 8, 2011
National Institute of Informatics (National Center of Sciences Bldg.),
20th floor, Seminar Room 1 (2006)

Talk 1

Wataru Uegaki (MIT)
A backward reduction approach to the semantics of question-embedding predicates

Vendler (1972) and Ginzburg (1995) observe that attitude verbs that can embed interrogative complements (such as know) and verbs that cannot (such as believe) have different entailments when they take DPs with a propositional complement as shown in (1).

a. John {believed/denied} the rumor that Mary left. |= John {believed/denied} that Mary left.
b. John {knew/discovered/told me} the rumor that Mary left. |=/= John {knew/discovered/told me} that Mary left.

In this talk, I propose a novel account of this contrast by arguing that interrogative-embedding verbs only take a question as a semantic argument whether or not it can embed a that-clause. When these verbs embed a that-clause, I claim that the complementizer that turns the proposition denoted by the complement into the singleton set containing the proposition, creating a "trivial" question, assuming Hamblin's semantics for questions. In this proposal, thus, proposition-embedding is reduced to question-embedding, contrary to the standard view where question-embedding is reduced to proposition-embedding. I argue that this proposal correctly captures the generalization that verbs that only embed interrogatives (e.g., ask, wonder) form a semantic natural class in that they trigger a certain "ignorance" presupposition, while avoiding the long-standing question in the standard theories of why believe cannot embed an interrogative.

Talk 2

Uli Sauerland (Center for General Linguistics, Berlin)
The Semantics and Pragmatics of Contradictions

Recent experimental work confirms that borderline contradictions such as "Joe is and isn't tall" are highly acceptable if Joe's height is borderline, e.g. 178cm in Europe (Alxatib & Pelletier 2011, Ripley 2011). I present a semantic solution developed in ongoing work with Sam Alxatib and Peter Pagin that intensionalizes the semantics of "and". Both semantic and pragmatic accounts of the phenomenon have been proposed, before, but I argue that neither is satisfactory: On the one hand, Schiffer (2003) proposes a semantic account within fuzzy logic. But in Sauerland (2011), I show that borderline contradictions are more acceptable than conjunctions of two unrelated borderline truths, e.g. "A 178cm man is tall and a 2 hour flight is long." On the other hand, Cobreros et al. (2011) argue for a pragmatic account of borderline contradictions where contradictions trigger a tolerant mode of evaluation. But, I show that this proposal incorrectly predicts that disjunctions like "Either Joe is and isn't tall or the emperor is female." should be less acceptable than bare borderline contradictions.


Alxatib, Sam & Francis Jeffry Pelletier. 2011. On the psychology of truth-gaps. In Nouwen et al. (2011).

Cobreros, P., P. Egré, D. Ripley & R. van Rooij. 2011. Tolerant, classical, strict. Journal of Philosophical Logic .

Nouwen, Rick, Robert van Rooij, Uli Sauerland & Hans Christian Schmitz (eds.). 2011. Vagueness in communication. Heidelberg: Springer.

Ripley, David. 2011. Contradiction at the borders. In Nouwen et al. (2011), 175–94.

Sauerland, Uli. 2011. Vagueness in language: The case against fuzzy logic revisited. (to appear)

Schiffer, Stephen. 2003. The things we mean. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Semantics Research Group

Last modified: 2011-06-03 11:42:08 JST