New Draft: Can

A draft of my “Two Puzzles about Ability Can” is now available in the Research section.
Here is the abstract:


The received wisdom on ability modals is that they differ from their epistemic and deontic cousins in what inferences they license and better receive a universal or conditional analysis instead of an existential one. The goal of this paper is to sharpen the empirical picture about the semantics of ability modals, and to propose an analysis that explains what makes the can of ability so special but that also preserves the crucial intuition that all uses of can share a common lexical semantics. The resulting framework combines tools and techniques from dynamic and inquisitive semantics with insights from the literature of the the role of agency in deontic logic. It explains not only why the canof ability, while essentially being an existential modal operator, sometimes resists distribution over disjunction and interacts with its duals in particular and hitherto unnoticed ways, but also has a tendency to license free choice inferences.

New Draft: Subjectivity

It took a while, but a draft of my “Evidence, Attitudes, and Counterstance Contingency: Toward a Pragmatic Theory of Subjective Meaning” (conspired with Chris Kennedy) is now available at semanticsarchive.net (links). The abstract is as follows:


This paper focusses on two cross-linguistically robust interpretive and distributional characteristics of subjective predicates that have resisted a comprehensive analysis: subjective predicates introduce experiential evidential requirements, and they differ from objective predicates in their distribution under certain types of propositional attitude verbs. The goal of this paper is to argue that these features can be derived in a uniform way, without introducing special kinds of meanings or interpretive operations for subjective predicates, and within a broadly truth-conditional approach to semantic content, given a view of subjective language as an essentially pragmatic, context-sensitive phenomenon. Specifically, we propose that what renders an issue subjective in discourse is speakers’ awareness of counterstances: alternative information states that reflect conflicting decisions as to how semantic underdetermination is resolved in context. We show how a characterization of subjective predicates as counterstance contingent expressions not only derives their distributional properties, but also explains why their use comes with distinct evidential requirements.