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.

Subjectivity at the World Congress

I will be talking about subjectivity and other enigmas at the World Congress of Philosophy in Beijing on August 19. More info about this gargantuan congress here.

DEON 2016 Special Issue

Our DEON 2016 special issue of the Journal of Logic and Computation is now forthcoming. As always it was a pleasure working with Olivier Roy and Allard Tamminga, and we got some great papers together. A brief editorial is here and the list of contributions is as follows:

Can at the Central

Next week I will present my "Two Puzzles about Agentive Can" at the Central APA in Chicago (Thursday February 22, 12:10-2:10). David Boylan and Paul Portner have kindly agreed to comment. Here is the abstract:


I discuss two puzzling observations about how agentive can differs from other existential modals, most prominently epistemic might and deontic may: (i) the former, but not the latter, exhibit a tendency to resist distribution over disjunction; (ii) the negation of the latter, but not of the former, brings in its wake a commitment to the corresponding necessity of a negation. These observations call for an explanation by a modal analysis that satisfies two methodological constraints: (i) existential modals of all flavors (deontic, epistemic, agentive, telic, and so on) should receive a uniform semantic analysis; (ii) features that all existential modals have in common, such as their tendency to license free choice effects, should receive a uniform semantic or pragmatic explanation. I provide such an analysis in a framework that combines tools and techniques from dynamic and inquisitive semantics with insights from the literature on the role of agency in deontic logic.

Free Choice in Amsterdam

This year's Amsterdam Colloquium will see me present my paper "Widening Free Choice." Here is the abstract:


Disjunctions scoping under possibility modals give rise to the free choice effect. The effect also arises if the disjunction takes wide scope over possibility modals; it is independent of the modal flavor at play (deontic, epistemic, and so on); and it arises even if disjunctions scope under or over necessity modals. At the same time, free choice effects disappear in the scope of negation or if the speaker signals ignorance or unwillingness to cooperate. I show how we can account for this wide variety of free choice observations without unwelcome side-effects in an update-based framework whose key innovations consist in (i) a refined test semantics for necessity modals and (ii) a generalized conception of narrow and wide scope free choice effects as arising from lexically or pragmatically generated prohibitions against the absurd state (an inconsistent information carrier) serving as an update relatum. The fact that some of these prohibitions are defeasible together with a binary semantics that distinguishes between positive and negative update relata accounts for free choice cancellation effects.

Subjectivity in Berlin

Next stop will be Berlin, where I will be presenting joint work with Chris Kennedy on counterstance contingency and subjective meaning at the ZAS (November 13–14). More info here, and all of this courtesy of Hazel Pearson. I look forward to exchanging ideas with what looks like a fantastic group of local and invited participants.

L&P Workshop 2017–18

This year’s University of Chicago Linguistic and Philosophy Workshop is off to a good start with a visit John Horty this Friday, September 29. Check out the program (still developing) here.

InqBnB Workshop

I will be presenting some new work on free choice and its failures at the Inquisitiveness Below and Beyond the Sentence Boundary Workshop in Broek in Waterland (June 26-29, 2017), courtesy of Floris Roelefson. I look forward to exchanging ideas with what looks like a fantastic group of local and invited participants.

Subjectivity in Language and Thought

This coming Friday and Saturday, Chris Kennedy and I will be hosting a two-day workshop on subjectivity in language and thought here at the University of Chicago. Check out the program here. The workshop is funded by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and will take place at the Franke Institute for the Humanities.