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Workshop on Looks, Attitudes, and Syntactic Embedding

November 1, 2019 at New York University

The workshop will take place in room 202 of NYU's philosophy building (5 Washington Place). 

Anyone with an interest in any of the talks is welcome!


9:30-9:45 .     Welcome

9:45-10:45      Yimei Xiang (Rutgers, Linguistics), "Attitudes held of questions: Completeness and sensitivity to false answers"

11:00-12:00    Kyle Rawlins (Johns Hopkins, Cognitive Science) & Aaron White (Rochester, Linguistics), 

                       "Veridicality, factivity, and embedded clauses at the scale of the lexicon"

12:00-1:00      Lunch

1:00-2:00       Justin Bledin (Johns Hopkins, Philosophy), "Perceptual Resemblance Reports"

2:15-3:15         Matt McGrath (Rutgers, Philosophy) "The Metaphysics of Looks" 

3:15-3:45        Coffee Break

3:45-4:45        Friederike Moltmann (Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique), "Truthmaker semantics for intensional transitive verbs"   

Full Abstracts for Talks

Attitudes held of questions: Completeness and sensitivity to false answers

Yimei Xiang (Rutgers, Linguistics)

Attitudes (e.g., knowledge, memory, emotion, and so on) held of questions must be complete and are sensitive to false answers. For example, the sentence "Jenny knows who left" has two conditions: a Completeness condition, that Jenny knows an answer that completely addresses the question "who left", and a false answer (FA-)sensitivity condition, that Jenny has no false belief relevant to "who left". Completeness is standardly equivocated to exhaustiveness. For example, a complete answer to "who left" should exhaustively specify all the individuals who left. Adopting this assumption, recent works on question-embeddings treat the FA-sensitivity condition as a scalar implicature of Completeness and derive it via exhaustification (Klinedinst & Rothschild 2011, Uegaki 2015, Cremers 2016, Theiler et al 2018). 


However, investigating into mention-some readings of questions with existential modals (e.g., "Who can chair the committee?"), I argue for a non-exhaustive definition of Completeness that unifies mention-some and mention-all readings of questions (Fox 2013). Further, I argue against the exhaustification-based account of FA-sensitivity: the FA-sensitivity condition is much stronger than what it can be defined as in any exhaustification-based account. It is concerned with all the relevant false answers, including those that can never be complete. This generalization also suggests a non-trivial prediction against the reducibility view: to recover all the relevant false answers, questions under attitudes must be able to supply partitions; hence, attitudes held of a question cannot be reduced to attitudes held of one answer to this question. 

Veridicality, factivity, and embedded clauses at the scale of the lexicon

Kyle Rawlins (Johns Hopkins, Cognitive Science) & Aaron White (Rochester, Linguistics)

Which of a verb's semantic properties are active in determining its selectional properties? This question has received surprisingly different answers for nominal and clausal selection. Whereas accounts of nominal selection tend to be stated in terms of event structure, accounts of clausal selection tend to be stated in terms of a distinct set of semanticopragmatic properties that are specific to the domain of clause-embedding, such as Bolinger's ‘representationality’, Hooper’s ‘assertivity’, etc.

We investigate two properties that have been suggested to be important in determining clausal selection, especially for “responsive” verbs that select both interrogative and declarative clauses: veridicality and factivity. Using two lexicon-scale datasets—one containing veridicality judgments for all English verbs that embed both finite and infinitival declarative clauses and another containing acceptability judgments for these same verbs in a wide variety of syntactic contexts—we show that these properties do not predict any selectional properties above and beyond what can be predicted from verb class alone. Delving into this finding, we discuss twelve distinct inference patterns extant in our data, which appear to be driven by two interacting axes of syntax/semantics variation: whether the verb takes an internal DP argument (e.g. a goal) and what kind of modality it involves. We also demonstrate that while claimed connections between veridicality/factivity and syntactic selection are not present at the scale of the lexicon, they are present when considering just high frequency verbs. Along the way we provide several arguments that lexicon-scale data is crucial for understanding hypotheses about embedded clause distribution, and discuss our ongoing family of MegaAttitude data sets (

Perceptual Resemblance Reports

Justin Bledin (Johns Hopkins, Philosophy)

This talk is an excerpt from a larger project that aims to develop a cross-categorical semantic analysis of as if constructions in English. Part of the challenge is that as if is extremely productive, appearing in a range of of syntactic environments, and each of its different uses raises its own interpretive puzzles. Here the focus is on "perceptual resemblance reports" (PRRs) where as if-phrases complement the perceptual source verbs seem, appear, look, sound, feel, smell, and taste (e.g., "Florence sounds as if she's been taking singing lessons", "It smells as if there are brownies in the oven"). I interpret PRRs within an event-semantic framework where as if-phrases express "hypothetical comparative" properties of the reported states. This analysis is flexible enough to accommodate both purely perceptual and epistemic PRRs while avoiding conceptual difficulties with alternative approaches that assimilate PPRs to propositional attitude reports. 

The Metaphysics of Looks

Matt McGrath (Rutgers, Philosophy)

Philosophers often speak as if visual, auditory, and other appearances are in the head. Talk of how things look gets interpreted as talk of one’s having certain experiences. This seems to neglect the fact that we ordinarily speak of things outside us as having looks — a room might have a drab look, the sun at sunset might have a reddish look at sunset, and a snarling dog might have angry look. This paper attempts to understand what looks, as features of objects, might be. In particular, it examines whether we should understand them in terms of dispositions to affect perceivers, and if not, what sorts of features they could be identified with.

Truthmaker semantics for intensional transitive verbs

Friederike Moltmann (Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique)

This talk will discuss the semantics of intensional transitive verbs such as 'need', 'look for', 'see', 'recognize', 'owe', and 'own' in the context of truthmaker semantics. Intensional transitive verbs give new motivations for truthmaker semantics, but also pose particular challenges for it. 

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