A few examples of current work in the lab:
Chrissy Zlogar, Anna Alsop, Kathryn Davidson
One of the most productive developments of the last several decades of formal pragmatics research has been increasingly sophisticated models of different kinds of meaning that linguistic content can contribute (e.g., whether that content is at-issue or backgrounded, entailed or implicated, etc.). Recently, this type of formal pragmatic analysis has been extended beyond language in the strict sense, to co-speech gesture (Schlenker 2016; Ebert & Ebert 2014, 2016). This is a natural extension, given that co-speech gestures are known to be prosodically integrated with spoken language and have been argued to both contribute to a unified semantic content (McNeill 1992; Kendon 2004; Goldin-Meadow & Brentari 2015); however, not much is known about the factors that affect the acceptability or semantic/pragmatic interpretation of co-speech gestures. In our experimental work, we have been looking at factors affecting the acceptability of certain "iconic" co-speech gestures, focusing on how triviality/duplicating material in the preceding linguistic context, or in the same sentence, affects felicity judgments. Our hope is that these experimental studies will contribute to a larger discussion regarding the semantic, pragmatic, and information structure properties of co-speech gestures, and the practical issues involved in creating appropriate contexts in which to test them via fieldwork or experimentation.
Quantity judgment tasks (Barner & Snedeker 2005) have been increasingly used across languages as a diagnostic for noun semantics. Based on the answers to the question Who has more NOUN?, researchers have claimed that classifier languages such as Mandarin Chinese make a distinction between count nouns and mass nouns (Schaeffer & Lin 2015, a.o.) and that in Yudja, a Tupi language spoken in Brazil, all nouns are count (Lima 2014). Our goal is to contribute to a better understanding of the crosslinguistic picture by investigating the role played by language in quantity judgment tasks. In particular, we investigate the role played by linguistic cues to atomicity in quantity judgments by conducting experiments in English and in French. Our hope is that having a better understanding of the task will help us to have a better grasp of the crosslinguistic variation. (Characters in feature picture created by Dorothy Ahn.)
Anna Alsop, Laine Stranahan, Kathryn Davidson
Gricean pragmatics predicts that speakers add modifiers to the extent that they are informative. One implication of this pragmatic expectation is the generation of "contrastive inference". Previous studies have shown that if a speaker uses a prenominal modifier (short, big), listeners will infer the existence of similar objects differing along the same scale. We have been investigating these contrastive inferences, asking whether they extend to suprasegmental features (prosodic focus and depictive co-speech gestures), and whether they arise cross-linguistically as well.
Experimental approaches to NPI intervention
My research uses experimental methods to investigate negative polarity items such as ever and yet, which are only acceptable in certain environments, such as the if-clause, but not the then-clause, of a conditional sentence. In particular, I am looking at how their licensing is blocked by different elements in different languages. This data can be used to inform theories of how NPIs are blocked in general, and ultimately help uncover the mystery of why negative polarity items exist in languages at all.
Anaphors and exophors across languages
Pronouns and demonstratives can have anaphoric and exophoric uses. While the anaphoric use has been discussed extensively, the exophoric use has not received much attention. In this project, we are looking at how languages differentiate anaphoric and exophoric uses, and what the role of the pointing gesture is in this distinction. So far we have experimental studies on English and Korean, and we are currently planning an ASL version of the study. From this we hope to gain a better understanding of pronouns and their relationship to other referential elements like demonstrative and definite descriptions.
Testing a PPI analysis of superlative-modified numerals
Teodora Mihoc and Kathryn Davidson
Superlative-modified numerals (SMs; at least/most three) differ in a number of ways from comparative-modified numerals (CMs; more/less than three). One of the alleged contrasts regards the fact that SMs but not CMs are antilicensed under negation (I don't have more than three / *at least three diamonds), although they are on a par in other downward-entailing environments such as the antecedent of a conditional/restriction of a universal (If you have more than three/at least three diamonds, you win / Everyone who has more than three/at least three diamonds wins). Such a pattern is more generally characteristic of PPIs. However, PPIs typically exhibit one more property: if embedded under negation, they improve when further embedded in an additional downward-entailing (DE) environment (rescuing). We tested to see if SMs exhibited all these patterns and can thus be argued to differ from CMs as we would expect if they were indeed PPIs. Our first experiment confirmed the (anti)licensing pattern of SMs but did not find support for rescuing. We conducted two more experiments to investigate this further.