DP structure, number marking, and the morphosyntax of the mass/count distinction appears to be subject to a great deal of variation. Language systems with clear evidence of two classes of nouns, those that allow direct combination with numerals and those that don’t, are by now fairly well combed through. As are languages that disallow direct combinations of numerals with any noun, namely generalized classifier languages (Mandarin, Japanese, etc.). Finally, there are languages that do allow free combination of numerals with any N, whether conceptually mass or count, like Nez Perce, Yudja, Indonesian,…, which have also been well documented at this point. This variation has given rise to theories of the mass/count contrast where the link between the pre-linguistic/cognitive basis of the distinction and its grammatical manifestation is weakened to the point of disappearance: basically any ‘concept’ can have a mass or a count grammatical representation (cf. e.g. Chierchia 1998a, Borer 2005, Rothstein 2010, Landman 2011, De Vries et al. 2018, a.o.). I am going to argue that this position is not supported by the available evidence: All of the languages mentioned above retain essentially the same notion of countability. I will, accordingly, propose an approach consistent with the thesis that the mass/count contrast rests on an underlyingly universal structure. To use one of Chomsky’s favorite metaphors, if Martians were to be exposed to Italian, Mandarin and Yudja, they would think that they count things the same way, modulo minor phonological differences.
Chierchia. On Being Trivial: Grammar vs. Logic. In: G. Sagi and J. Woods (eds.), The Semantic Conception of Logic: Essays on Consequence, Invariance, and Meaning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press ; Forthcoming.Abstract
There is increasing consensus on the idea that certain sentences perceived as “ungrammatical” owe their status not to being syntactically ill-formed, but to their being L(ogically)-determinate and hence informationally trivial. Clearly, however, not every L-determinate sentence is perceived as ungrammatical, which raises the question of whether there is a principled way of sifting among the L-determinate sentences those that give rise to ungrammaticality from those that do not. Several interesting attempts have been made in this connection (Gajewski, Del Pinal), which, however, we argue fall short of the task. We propose a modification and generalization of such proposals based on the notion of ‘modulation’ of what are termed ‘the referential points’ of sentences (i.e. their non logical vocabulary and their variables). This approach has far reaching consequences for our understanding of the divide between logical and non logical vocabulary and for the very notion of semantic competence.
Approaches to anaphora generally seek to explain the potential for a DP to covary with a pronoun in terms of a combination of factors, such as (i) the inherent semantics of the antecedent DP (i.e., whether it is indefinite, quantificational, referential), (ii) its scope properties, and (iii) its structural position. A case in point is Reinhart’s classic condition on bound anaphora, paraphrasable as A DP can antecede a pronoun pro only if the DP C-commands pro at S-structure, supplemented with some extra machinery to allow indefinites to covary with pronouns beyond their C-command domains. In the present paper, I explore a different take. I propose that anaphora is governed not by DPs and their properties; it is governed by predicates (i.e., in the unary case, objects of type <e, t>) and their properties. To use a metaphor from dynamic semantics: discourse referents can only be ‘activated’ by predicates, never by DPs (Dynamic Predication Principle). This conceptually simple assumption is shown to have far-reaching consequences. For one, it yields a new take on weak crossover, arguably worthy of consideration. Moreover, it leads to a further general “restatement of the anaphora question” in Reinhart’s words (Linguist Philos 6: 47–88, 1983).
Chierchia discusses his views on the frontiers of contemporary semantics: multidimensionality of meaning, alternative semantics, ‘mid level’ generalizations, the natural logicality of natural languages, the role of reference, and the place of new methodologies, i.e. lab-experiments.
Italian and English factives differ from each other in interesting and puzzling ways. English emotive factives (regret, sorry) license Negative Polarity Items (NPIs), while their Italian counterparts don’t. Moreover, when factives of all kinds (emotive or cognitive) occur in the scope of negation in Italian an intervention effect emerges that interferes with NPI licensing way more robustly than in English. In this paper, I explore the idea that this contrast between Italian and English may be due to a difference in the Complementizer (C) -system of the two languages that parallels a difference that has been noted in the literature between the singular and the plural definite determiner the with respect to NPI licensing. Understanding how factives differ across language with respect to polarity phenomena is not only interesting in its own right, but also because it sheds further light on how logical contradictions may affect grammaticality judgments.
A vagueness-based approach to the mass/count distinction was developed in Chierchia (Synthese 174:99–149, 2010). Liebesman (Synthese 193: 185-203) argues against Chierchia’s proposal developing four arguments aimed at undermining it. He furthermore tries to make a case that regardless of the details of C’s proposal no vagueness-based account of the distinction is viable. In this paper I show that Liebesman’s arguments against C don’t go through and that a line of investigation on the mass count contrast in terms of vagueness is not only viable but also perhaps a source of insight on the nature of this much debated distinction and on the relations between grammar and metaphysics in general. The outcome of the present discussion is of interest beyond the question of who is right in this debate, as it puts into sharper focus several issues pertaining to mass vs. count, plural vs. singular, and the role of vagueness in natural language semantics
Scalar implicatures (SIs) and, more generally, quantity-based implicatures (QBIs) have been intensely investigated since Grice's seminal work. Recently, SIs and QBIs have been at the center of an intense debate. Some researchers, following Grice's original insight, argue that they should be captured solely in terms of principles of rational action (the pragmatic approach). Others argue that they cannot be analyzed in purely pragmatic terms but can only be properly understood in terms of a compositional semantic device, namely exhaustification (the grammatical approach). In this article, I review the key arguments in this debate, which is of interest not only to determine who is right but also because of the range of new phenomena that have come to light thanks to such a debate. My conclusion is that both conceptual and empirical reasons favor the grammatical approach.
In this note I address one of the issues raised in Chomsky’s “The Galilean Challenge,” namely how the basic mechanisms of Universal Grammar (“merge”) can produce a natural logic, i.e. a system for drawing sound inferences, in interaction with possibly language independent ‘proto-logical’ operations. I also give some examples of how a ‘natural logic’ is indeed intertwined with grammar and constitutes the main source of our capacity for ‘creating meaning’.
Weak Crossover (WCO) has many puzzling properties, including that of being obviated by A-movement. We argue that the key to understanding WCO lies in the fact that traces and pronouns have a different semantics. Simply put, traces are interpreted as variables in classical logic; pronouns are interpreted as discourse markers in dynamic logic. The heart of this paper is devoted to exploring the syntactic consequences of this view, that are argued to be far reaching. Not only the basics of WCO follow without construction specific constraints, but one gains new interesting insight of the difference between A- vs. A’-chain, the EPP, and the nature of expletives.
This chapter investigates wh-items in Mandarin from a cross-linguistic perspective, seeking to unify their various uses. It stems from: (i) previous approaches to indefinites in Chinese (Cheng 1991; Lin 1998); (ii) Kartunnen’s semantics for questions; (iii) recent work on epistemic indefinites (EIs); and (iv) recent approaches to polarity (e.g. Chierchia 2013). The chapter claims that indefinites in all languages denote existential terms and activate a grammatically determined set of alternatives, factored into meaning through a process of ‘exhaustification’, responsible for the scalar and ‘free choice’ readings of ordinary indefinites (OIs). EIs are viewed in the same way, the only difference from OIs being that EIs’ alternatives cannot be ‘pruned’ (i.e. ‘ignored’) depending on the context. Therefore, with EIs, epistemic effects come about obligatorily. The differences within types of EIs (including Chinese wh’s) are part of (a small set of) parametric differences on how alternatives can be factored in.
Making inferences beyond the literal meaning of sentences occurs with certain scalar expressions via scalar implicatures. For example, adults usually interpret some as some but not all. On the basis of behavioral research, it has been suggested that processing implicatures is cognitively costly. However, many studies have used cases where sentences with some did not match the context in which they were presented. Our study aimed to examine whether the processing cost is linked to implicature generation, to the mismatch between the implicature and the context, or to both processes. To do so, we explored the neural patterns of implicature generation and implicature mismatch using fMRI. Thirteen participants performed a sentence‐picture matching task (where pictures determined the context) with mismatched implicatures, successful implicatures or no implicature conditions. Several brain regions were identified when comparing cases of implicature mismatch and cases without implicatures. One of these regions, left‐IFG, was jointly activated for mismatched and successful implicatures, as observed in a conjunction analysis. By contrast, left‐MFG and medial‐frontal‐gyrus, were identified when comparing cases of implicature mismatch with cases of successful implicatures. Thus, the left IFG can be interpreted as being linked to implicature generation, whereas the other two areas seem to participate in the processing of the mismatch between the implicature and its context. Our results indicate that scalar implicatures induce processing cost in different ways. This should be considered in future research.