November 28, 2013

Guest Speaker: Elizabeth Allen Smith (Nov 29)

We are having a guest speaker event this week (November 29th) in Sid Smith 560A at 3pm (=3:10 U of T time). A reception in the department lounge will follow.

Elizabeth Allyn Smith (Université du Québec à Montréal)works on the semantic-pragmatic interface cross-linguistically and how it is influenced by a range of other factors, from syntactic to psycholinguistic to socio-phonetic. Her talk is entitled:

"Cross-linguistic differences in direct refutation and what they say about the interaction of grammar and context"

Most sentences contain multiple kinds of meanings: the main point of the assertion, things you presuppose, things you imply, various secondary points or ‘asides’, the source of your information, your commitment to it, how you feel about it, etc. Participants in a conversation can take issue with any of these meanings, but not always in the same way. For example, most researchers believe, following, e.g. von Fintel 2004 and Simons et al. 2011, that a contrast exists between (1b), which refutes the assertion in (1a), and (1c), which refutes its presupposition.

(1) a. Person 1: John is at the zoo again.
      b. Person 2: No, that’s not true, he’s home sick.
      c. Person 2: #No, that’s not true, he’s never been to the zoo until now.

 This talk attempts to answer the questions (i) what kinds of meanings can really be directly refuted (and whether it differs cross-linguistically), and (ii) what properties determine whether something can be directly refuted. I review previous proposals before presenting experimental results from English, Spanish and Catalan showing more heterogeneity than expected in the literature. I then present necessary revisions to theories of structured contexts to accommodate these results, explaining how syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic properties are all at play.

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