Category Archives: CRISSP Lecture Series

The Barker Lectures: Continuations and Natural Language

CRISSP is happy to announce a CRISSP Lecture Series with Chris Barker on October 14-16, 2015. The title of the Lecture Series is ‘Continuations and Natural Language’.


Scope-taking is a hallmark of natural language: not only is it widespread in the world’s languages, it is pervasive within individual languages. It is so familiar to us linguists that it is sometimes hard to appreciate just how astonishing it is for an expression to take material that surrounds it as its semantic argument. For instance, in “Ann gave everyone cookies”, the semantic argument of the quantificational DP “everyone” is the property constructed by abstracting over the direct object position, i.e., “\x.Ann gave x cookies”. Clearly, a deep and complete understanding of scope-taking is of foundational importance. Building on joint work with Chung-chieh Shan, I will bring to bear insights and techniques from the theory of programming languages, in particular, the concept of a CONTINUATION. One potential advantage of continuations over other approaches is that continuations allow fine-grained control over the order of evaluation. This allows a new account of sensitivity to linear order in weak crossover, reconstruction, negative polarity licensing, and dynamic anaphora. I will go on to explain how continuations allow understanding the traditional method of Quantifier Raising not as an ad-hoc heuristic for constructing so-called “logical forms”, but as a bone fide logical inference rule in the context of a substructural logic. This will lead to an account of parasitic scope and recursive scope, as in adjectives such as “same” and “different”, as well as of sluicing as a kind of anaphora, including accounts of sprouting examples (“Ann left, but I don’t know when”) and Andrews Amalgams (“Ann ate I don’t know what yesterday”).

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The Sprouse Lectures: A program for experimental syntax: data, theory, and biology

where did I go?CRISSP is happy to announce a CRISSP Lecture Series with Jon Sprouse (University of Connecticut) on March 16-18, 2015. The title of the Lecture Series is ‘A program for experimental syntax: data, theory, and biology’.


Over the past 15 years or so, the use of formal experimental methods has steadily gained popularity in theoretical linguistics. The question I’d like to address in this series is exacly how these methods can further the goals of syntactic theory. To that end, I will attempt to lay out a comprehensive research agenda that highlights the types of questions that I think formal methods are particularly well-suited to address. I will divide these questions into three types, roughly corresponding to each day of the lecture series: (i) questions about the data underlying syntactic theories (data), (ii) questions about the nature of syntactic theories (theory), and finally (iii) questions about the mentalistic consequences of syntactic theories (biology). For each topic, I will present a mix of old and new case studies, primarily based on acceptability judgment experiments, with at least one EEG experiment and one computational model thrown in for good measure. My hope is that these case studies will stimulate discussion about how we can push each of these research threads even further in the future.


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The Roberts Lectures: Parameter Hierarchies and Comparative Syntax

Ian Roberts

CRISSP is happy to announce a CRISSP Lecture Series with Ian Roberts (University of Cambridge) on December 16-19, 2014. The title of the Lecture Series is ‘Parameter Hierarchies and Comparative Syntax’.


This course looks at a way to break new ground in syntactic theory by reconceptualising the principles-and-parameters approach to comparative syntax, retaining its strengths and attempting to deal with its perceived weaknesses. The central idea is to organise the parameters of Universal Grammar (UG) into hierarchies, which define the ways in which properties of individually variant categories may act in concert; this creates macroparametric effects from the combined action of many microparameters. The highest position in a hierarchy defines a macroparameter, a major typological property, lower positions define successively more local properties. Parameter-setting in language acquisition starts at the highest position as this is the simplest choice; acquirers will “move down the hierarchy” when confronted with primary linguistic data (PLD) incompatible with a high setting. Hence the hierarchies simultaneously define learning paths and typological properties.

In this way, the criticism that formal comparative syntax has little to offer typological studies can potentially be answered. Lastly, a more purely theoretical component of the talk aims to show that the nature of the hierarchies is determined, not directly by UG, but by UG interacting with domain-general principles of simplicity and efficiency. The lectures will focus on the cross-linguistic analysis of null arguments, head movement and Case/agreement phenomena.

Research funded by the ERC Advanced Grant No. 269752.

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The Nouwen Lectures: Schedule and Abstracts

The schedule, title and abstract of the Nouwen Lectures are now available.

Title: Scales and expressions of quantity and degree
Schedule: 15 October (15:30-18:30), 16 October (10:30-13:30), 17 October (13:00-16:00)


Scales play a central role in the semantics of many natural language phenomena. In these lectures, I focus on three kinds of scalar operators: (i) quantifiers, semantically complex operators that form scales themselves; (ii) numeral modifiers, operators that express manipulations of the numerical scale, and (iii) intensifiers, operators that highlight regions on a scale of degrees. The common theme I focus on is that these kinds of operations are not always purely scalar, but that they are semantically and pragmatically complex.

Lecture 1: Quantifiers
One of the success stories of formal semantics is the programme of “Generalised Quantifiers” (e.g. Barwise and Cooper 1981). It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of the abundance of insights and tools that emerged from this programme. This notwithstanding, I will highlight several complications that make it that the denotations offered by generalised quantifier theory are in several different ways overly simple. That is, the semantic and pragmatic effects of quantifiers are not fully covered by relations between sets and cardinalities, and the scales such relations form.

Lecture 2: Modified numerals
In the second lecture, I will zoom in on the numerical scale and ways in which natural language allows for quantification on the basis of this scale. Geurts and Nouwen 2007 show that modified numerals with superlative morphology, like “at least 4”, do not have a purely scalar meaning but that there has to be some epistemic component to them: “John found at least 4 marbles” seems to convey that the speaker does not know exactly how many marbles John found. In more recent work on this topic, it has become clear that the precise nature of this epistemic flavour is very hard to pin down. I will highlight some interesting aspects of the resulting discussion. In addition, I will be looking at more complications, especially those offered by prepositional numerals like “up to 100” and I will compare the numerical scale to the spatial structures that form the normal domain of prepositions like “up to”.

Lecture 3: Intensifiers
Finally, I will turn to adjectives and their intensifiers. Simple unmarked adjectives are interpreted with respect to a cutoff point on a scale, the so-called standard of comparison. For “John is tall” to be true, John has to be taller than some (context-dependent) degree of height. It is often believed that intensifiers like “very” are essentially vague scalar operations manipulating this standard. “John is very tall” is just as vague as “John is tall”, but the standard of comparison for being “very tall” is simply higher than that for “tall”. I will argue that in many cases, however, it is not the case that intensifiers directly encode the amplification or slackening of the relevant standard. In particular, I will be looking at cases of intensification where the modifier is lexically transparent, as in “surprisingly tall” or “ridiculously tall”. I will argue that a lot of intensification comes about not by scalar operation, but by an indirectly provided signal of the speaker regarding his emotive or evaluative attitude to the sentence.

Barwise, Jon, and Robin Cooper. “Generalized quantifiers and natural language.” Linguistics and philosophy 4.2 (1981): 159-219.
Geurts, Bart, and Rick Nouwen. “‘At least’et al.: the semantics of scalar modifiers.” Language (2007): 533-559.

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