Aron Hirsch, University of Maryland (week 1) & Petr Kusliy & Ekaterina Vostrikova (University of Göttingen, week 2)

Seminar: Ling L: Puzzles in Formal Semantics (advanced)

Aron Hirsch (University of Maryland) Petr Kusliy (University of Göttingen) Ekaterina Vostrikova (University of Göttingen)

Part I: (Hirsch) "Puzzles in the semantics of questions"

A declarative sentence has truth-conditions, but a question is neither true nor false.  In analyzing a question, we need to capture how the question can be answered.  In one view, a question denotes the set of its possible answers, and an ANS operator then picks out the actual answer in a given circumstance.  But, how is ANS defined?  The challenge is that different questions seem to exhibit distinct answering patterns.  We will review proposals about how to define ANS, and consider their predictions, especially for questions containing a singular marked wh-phrase.   (This class will include joint work with Bernhard Schwarz, McGill)
Part II: (Kusliy & Vostrikova) "Puzzles in tense semantics"
Tense semantics is known for various puzzles arising on a cross-linguistic level. We will discuss two such puzzles pertaining to the interpretation of the past tense in embedded and matrix clauses. The first puzzle has to do with the phenomenon of the interpretation of the embedded tense. In English, past tense, when embedded under a past-marked attitude verb, can get get a simultaneous reading. Thus, ‘John said he loved Mary’ can be true in a scenario where what John told me was “I love Mary!”. In other languages, such as Russian, the availability of the simultaneous readings is much more limited. We will introduce and explore three existing theoretical mechanisms potentially explaining the availability of the simultaneous readings (sequence of tense, the de re mechanism and the pragmatic competition between the past and the present tense) and their ability to capture the observed empirical restrictions on the availability of the past-under-past in Russian. We will argue that the empirical evidence supports the de re mechanism coupled with a theory of pragmatic competition between tenses. The second puzzle concerns the quantificational or referential nature of the past tense morpheme. We will explore the evidence in favor of each approach and will discuss the content of some recent literature on the topic.