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Yu'an and Tyler in Proceedings of SALT 30

March 03, 2021 Linguistics | Philosophy

Yu'an Yang, a PhD student in linguistics, concentrating on her laptop screen

Experimental evidence for restricted quantification, with Conservativity as a consequence.

Now out, the Proceedings of SALT 30, featuring "Represent an issue as open: Mandarin discourse particle ba" by Yu'an Yang, and "Determiners are 'conservative' because their meanings are not relations: Evidence from verification," by Tyler Knowlton, with assists from Paul Pietroski, Alexander Williams, Justin Halberda and Jeffrey Lidz. Here are the abstracts.

Represent an issue as open: Mandarin discourse particle ba

The Mandarin sentence final particle ba has been described as expressing uncertainty or soliciting agreement in declaratives ("weakening" an assertion, Han 1995, Li 2006 a.o.). However, ba-interrogatives appear to be "strengthening" a question to a demand: "you must answer this question," similar to the cornering effects associated with or not questions (Biezma 2009 a.o.). To account for this "weak" and "strong" contrast, some have postulated a lexical ambiguity: ba1 in declaratives and ba2 in interrogatives (Chao 1968, Zhu 1999). In this paper, I discuss new data showing that ba-declaratives are not always less forceful and ba-interrogatives are not always more forceful than their unmarked counterparts, which challenges current theories. I propose that, uniformly, the use of ba represents an issue as open. The "weak" and "strong" effects are results of ba interacting with the discourse context.

Determiners are "conservative" because their meanings are not relations: evidence from verification

Quantificational determiners have meanings that are "conservative" in the following sense: in sentences, repeating a determiner's internal argument within its external argument is logically insignificant. Using a verification task to probe which sets (or properties) of entities are represented when participants evaluate sentences, we test the predictions of three potential explanations for the cross-linguistic yet substantive conservativity constraint. According to "lexical restriction" views, words like every express relations that are exhibited by pairs of sets, but only some of these relations can be expressed with determiners. An "interface filtering" view retains the relational conception of determiner meanings, while replacing appeal to lexical filters (on relations of the relevant type) with special rules for interpreting the combination of a quantificational expression (Det NP) with its syntactic context and a ban on meanings that lead to triviality. The contrasting idea of "ordered predication" is that determiners don't express genuine relations. Instead, the second argument provides the scope of a monadic quantifier, while the first argument selects the domain for that quantifier: the sequences with respect to which it is evaluated. On this view, a determiner's two arguments each have a different logical status, suggesting that they might have a different psychological status as well. We find evidence that this is the case: When evaluating sentences like every big circle is blue, participants mentally group the things specified by the determiner's first argument (e.g., the big circles) but not the things specified by the second argument (e.g., the blue things) or the intersection of both (e.g., the big blue circles). These results suggest that the phenomenon of conservativity is due to ordered predication.