Experiments in Linguistic Meaning

Journal Information
EISSN : 2694-1791
Published by: Linguistic Society of America (10.3765)
Total articles ≅ 17
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Adina Camelia Bleotu, Anton Benz, Nicole Gotzner
Experiments in Linguistic Meaning, Volume 1, pp 59-70; https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.4866

Abstract:
The current paper employs a novel Shadow Play Paradigm to investigate the semantic knowledge and pragmatic ability of Romanian 5-year-olds with respect to the epistemic adverbs poate ‘maybe’ and sigur ‘certainly’. The paradigm is an improved version of the Hidden Object Paradigm, where, instead of merely looking at an inaccessible entity, participants can now infer the presence of the entity on the basis of evidence (a shadow, as well as a specific sound). We argue that Romanian children as young as 5 are able to derive implicatures with epistemic adverbs at an almost adult-like level. However, they exhibit the tendency to accept overly strong statements (i.e., statements where a certainty adverb is wrongly used instead of a possibility adverb) as optimal to a much higher degree than adults. This can be explained as a cognitive/communicative strategy to reduce multiple alternatives to a single one in cases of uncertainty.
Yuhan Zhang, Kathryn Davidson
Experiments in Linguistic Meaning, Volume 1, pp 310-321; https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.4874

Abstract:
Determiner phrases (DPs) under intensional operators give rise to multiple interpretations, known as the de re/de dicto ambiguity. Formal theoretical approaches to modeling this ambiguity must rely on nuanced semantic judgments, but inconsistent judgments in the literature suggest that informal judgment collection may be insufficient. In addition, little is known about how these ambiguities are resolved in context and how preferences between these readings vary by context and across individuals, etc. We reported three controlled experiments to systemize the truth-value judgment collection of de re/de dicto readings. While the de dicto readings were robustly accepted by nearly all English speakers, de re readings exhibited strongly bimodal judgments, suggesting an inherent disagreement among speakers. In addition, the acceptability of de re judgments was affected by the DP's internal structure as well as idiosyncratic scenarios. More broadly, our experimental results lend support to the practice of including quantitative data collection within semantics.
Jaime Castillo-Gamboa, Alexis Wellwood, Deniz Rudin
Experiments in Linguistic Meaning, Volume 1, pp 78-89; https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.4872

Abstract:
This paper investigates the semantics of implicit comparatives (Alice is tall compared to Bob) and its connections to the semantics of explicit comparatives (Alice is taller than Bob) and sentences with adjectives in plain positive form (Alice is tall). We consider evidence from two experiments that tested judgments about these three kinds of sentence, and provide a semantics for implicit comparatives from the perspective of degree semantics.
Sea Hee Choi, Tania Ionin
Experiments in Linguistic Meaning, Volume 1, pp 113-124; https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.4867

Abstract:
This paper reports on a study that uses a novel methodology, the minimal part identification task, in order to probe the relationship between morphosyntax and interpretation. English, Korean and Mandarin Chinese differ from one another with regard to the count/mass distinction. Building on prior research but using a new methodology, this study examines whether speakers of these three languages also differ in how they interpret count vs. mass nouns. The findings, while uncovering some language-specific effects of morphosyntax, point to the importance of universality, and suggest that interpretation drives morphosyntax rather than the other way around.
Danielle Dionne, Elizabeth Coppock
Experiments in Linguistic Meaning, Volume 1, pp 147-158; https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.5013

Abstract:
This paper addresses the question of how to predict which alternatives are active in scalar implicature calculation, and the nature of this activation. It has been observed that finger implicates 'not thumb', and a Manner-based explanation for this has been proposed, predicting that if English had the simplex Latin word pollex meaning 'thumb or big toe', then finger would cease to have the implicature 'not thumb' that it has. It has also been suggested that this hypothetical pollex would have to be sufficiently colloquial in order to figure in scalar implicature calculation. This paper makes this thought experiment into a real one by using a language that behaves in exactly this way: Spanish has pulgar 'thumb' (< pollex), a non-colloquial form. We first use a fill-in-the-blank production task with both English and Spanish speakers to guage the likelihood with which a speaker will produce a given form as a way of describing a given digit. Production frequency does not perfectly track complexity, so we can then ask whether comprehension follows production frequency or complexity. We do so using a forced choice comprehension task, which reveals cross-linguistic differences in comprehension tracking production probabilities. A comparison between two RSA models -- one in which the speaker perfectly replicates our production data and a standard one in which the speaker chooses based on a standard cost/accuracy trade-off -- illustrates the fact that comprehension is much more closely tied to production probability than to the mere existence of sufficiently simple alternatives.
Jasmijn E. Bosch, Mathilde Chailleux, Francesca Foppolo
Experiments in Linguistic Meaning, Volume 1, pp 71-77; https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.4880

Abstract:
A sentence like 'Lyn has peeled the apple' triggers two types of inferences: a telicity inference that the event is telic; and a culmination inference that the event has reached its telos and has stopped. This results in the final interpretation of the sentence that Lyn has completely peeled the apple. We present an eye-tracking study to test children's ability to predict the upcoming noun (e.g., the apple) during the incremental processing of sentences like 'Look at the picture in which he/she has peeled the…' in which the predicate is telic and the verb appears in the perfective form. By means of the Visual World Paradigm, we aimed to investigate children's ability to use the lexical semantics and aspectual morphology of verbs during language processing. To test if children can predict the target (e.g., a completely peeled apple) by exploiting the lexical-semantic meaning of the verb, we contrasted the target picture with a picture of an object that cannot be peeled; to test if they can predict on the basis of the verb's perfective morphology, we compared the target with the picture of a half-peeled apple. Our results show that Italian children can anticipate the upcoming noun in both cases, providing evidence that children can exploit the morphosyntactic cue on the verb (perfective aspect) to incrementally derive the culmination inference that the telos is reached and the event is completed. We also show that the integration of aspect requires some additional time compared to the integration of the basic lexical semantics of the verb.
Claire Bergey, Daniel Yurovsky
Experiments in Linguistic Meaning, Volume 1, pp 39-46; https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.4946

Abstract:
In the face of unfamiliar language or objects, description is one cue people can use to learn about both. Beyond narrowing potential referents to those that match a descriptor, listeners could infer that a described object is one that contrasts with other relevant objects of the same type (e.g., “The tall cup” contrasts with another, shorter cup). This contrast may be in relation to other objects present in the environment or to the referent’s category. In two experiments, we investigate whether listeners use descriptive contrast to resolve reference and make inferences about novel referents’ categories. While participants use size adjectives contrastively to guide novel referent choice, they do not reliably do so using color adjectives (Experiment 1). Their contrastive inferences go beyond the current referential context: participants use description to infer that a novel object is atypical of its category (Experiment 2). Overall, people are able to use descriptive contrast to resolve reference and make inferences about a novel object’s category, allowing them to infer new word meanings and learn about new categories’ feature distributions.
Naomi Francis, Shuli Jones, Leo Rosenstein, Martin Hackl
Experiments in Linguistic Meaning, Volume 1, pp 159-171; https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.4889

Abstract:
This paper presents an experimental investigation of how English-learning children acquire the additive discourse particles either and too. In the target grammar these items exhibit near-complementary distribution conditioned on the polarity of their host sentence. The path leading to that grammar appears to be rather intricate. We present comprehension data showing that for an extended period of time (3–5 ya) learners find both items acceptable in both polarity environments, exhibiting only a weak adult-like tendency of preferring either in negative and too in positive sentences. At 6 ya, their grammar appears categorical wrt. either in that they no longer tolerate it in positive sentences while still exhibiting only a weak dispreference for too in negative environments. These findings are even more striking in the context of production data. We find that child-directed speech is essentially categorical, providing unambiguous evidence for the adult grammar. Moreover, we find essentially categorical, adult-like use of either and too in child production from the earliest stage of development. These observations raise a number of challenges for theories of either and too and for approaches to learning focus particles more generally. Perhaps most strikingly, the protracted insensitivity of the learner's grammar to accumulation of unambiguous evidence constitutes a novel argument from the abundance of evidence for encapsulated learning.
, Manfred Krifka
Experiments in Linguistic Meaning, Volume 1, pp 224-236; https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.5072

Abstract:
There are different theories about the nature of pseudo-incorporated nouns (PINs), which feature a non-specific, number-neutral interpretation. For a proper analysis it is crucial to take their anaphoric potential into account. This paper investigates if and how PINs introduce discourse referents, with evidence from Persian, and which theory matches this behavior best. We report on experiments in which the stereotypical enrichment of the number-neutral interpretation was systematically varied with two types of biases — towards a singular or a plural interpretation — and in the neutral case, when such a bias is lacking. The results of the experiments are compatible with Krifka & Modarresi (2016), which considers PIN objects as dependent singular definites (similar to weak definites) within existential closure over an event variable.
Adina Camelia Bleotu, Anton Benz, Nicole Gotzner
Experiments in Linguistic Meaning, Volume 1, pp 47-58; https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.4863

Abstract:
In the current paper, we employ a novel Shadow Play Paradigm in order to test Romanian monolingual adults’ sensitivity to truth and informativeness and investigate their ability to derive implicatures with epistemic adverbs. We show that implicature rates with epistemic adverbs are higher when participants are asked to reward characters depending on the truth of their statements rather than on whether what they say is the best description of the situation. Given participants’ task-sensitivity, we recommend instructions using optimality criteria as a more sensitive method of probing into implicature generation.
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