Month: April 2013

What to do if you don’t know what to do

Magdalena Kaufmann

26 Apr 2013, 2pm-3:30pm, Manchester 227

The truth and appropriateness of statements and instructions about what is the best thing to do (as expressed by declarative sentences containing deontic modals and imperative sentences) can depend on the information that is or will be available to the relevant agent at the time of choice. Moreover, antecedents of conditionals can sometimes behave as if supplying the relevant information for modals or imperatives in the consequent. These interactions between what counts as the best or optimal action for an agent and what information is available poses problems for standard treatments of deontic modals and conditionals in formal semantics. I will start by introducing Cariani, Kaufmann & Kaufmann’s (forthcoming) treatment of the miners’ paradox (Kolodny & MacFarlane 2010), and I will then focus on the influence of subjunctive marking on German modals and point out possible connections to recent work on the distinction between weak and strong necessity modals (like ‘ought’ vs. ‘have to’).

Conjunction and Disjunction in ASL

Kate Davidson

5 Apr 2013, 2pm-3:30pm, Manchester 227

In American Sign Language (ASL), conjunction and disjunction are typically conveyed by the same general use coordinator (transcribed as `COORD’). So the sequence of signs “Mary want tea COORD coffee” can be interpreted as `Mary wants tea or coffee’ or `Mary wants tea and coffee’ depending on contextual, prosodic, or other lexical cues. I describe the semantics of two general use coordinators in ASL, making arguments against an ambiguity approach to account for the conjunctive and disjunctive readings. Instead, I propose a Hamblin-style alternative semantics where the disjunctive and conjunctive force comes from external quantification over a set of alternatives. The pragmatic consequences of using only a prosodic distinction between disjunction from conjunction is examined via a felicity judgement study of scalar implicatures. Results indicate decreased scalar implicatures when COORD is used as disjunction, supporting the semantic analysis and suggesting that the contrast of lexical items in the scale plays an important role in its pragmatics. Extensions to other languages with potential general use coordination, such as Japanese and Maricopa, are discussed.