Part 1: Petr Kuslij,  Ekaterina Vostrikova (University of Göttingen)
Part 2: Hedde Zeijlstra (University of Göttingen)

Seminar: Ling K: Puzzles in Semantics (advanced)

Petr Kusliy (University of Göttingen) Ekaterina Vostrikova (University of Göttingen) Hedde Zeijlstra (University of Göttingen)

Puzzle 1 (Petr Kusliy, Ekaterina Vostrikova):

In the first part of our class (3 classes), we'll explore a puzzle related to the use of the past tense with stative verbs. In many languages, using a stative verb in the past tense implies that the state no longer holds in the present, a phenomenon known as 'cessation inference'. For example, in English, the sentence 'John was sick' suggests that John is no longer sick. However, this inference can be easily canceled in English: 'John was sick, and he is still sick.' In contrast, in some languages, such as Tlingit, an equivalent statement sounds contradictory. The current debate in the literature is focused on whether this inference is pragmatic or semantic in nature. Our key question will be: What causes this variation among languages? If time allows, we will also delve into cessation inferences within embedded clauses and examine their connection to the availability of simultaneous readings in past-under-past constructions crosslinguistically.

Puzzle 2 (Hedde Zeijlstra):  

The second part of the class (the last two classes) will deal with Universal paradigmatic gaps. Universal paradigmatic gaps are gaps in linguistic paradigms that appear across languages and across users of a given language. As of yet, only very few gaps of this kind have been discussed in the literature. The one gap that has received substantial discussion concerns the universal absence of a lexicalized negated form for the quantifiers all, every or always: There appears to be no language in the world that exhibits a single word (or lexical item) that means ‘not all’, ‘not every’ or ‘not always’, an observation dating back to Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).  Understanding the nature, distribution and behaviour of universal paradigmatic gaps will have several profound implications for our understanding of human cognition, language and communication. Why is it that we cannot always say what is thinkable? In this course, we will try provide an answer to this question and show when, how and why universal paradigmatic gaps may emerge in the languages that we speak or sign.