alexis singing

I am an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Northwestern University, specializing in semantics.

I direct the Child Language Development Laboratory, investigating what kids think about word and sentence meaning.

If these sentences are meaningful, what do they mean? 03.27.2016

Semanticists have traditionally thought that the semantic value of a name like Alfred is 'that guy', Alfred, and this is formalized with the semantic type $e$ (read the SEP article on names for the philosophical history). Such an account leads to well-known puzzles, among which is the fact that names regularly occur with the definite article in languages like Greek (1) (Chris LaTerza's excellent dissertation cites Holton et al 2004), and can be used predicatively even in languages like English (2) (Burge 1973).

   (1)     *(i) Maria
           `*(the) Mary'

   (2)     Susan likes every James she's met.

On the face of it, what looks like the "simplest" solution would involve interpreting names as having the higher type $\langle e,t\rangle$. And of course such a solution has been proposed and defended, but I'm too lazy right now to pull up the references (blog post, not academic paper; hurrah!). Meanwhile, there are boundlessly many tools in the semanticist's toolkit to handle examples like (1)-(2) in other ways, if one wants to maintain the type $e$ analysis. And so, as usual, one will want to look at the arguments.

It's interesting, though, that at least one approach to semantic composition expects the vast majority of expressions in language will have the simple predicative type: Paul Pietroski's Conjunctivist semantics (here's a fairly recent slideshow of his on semantic typology, see also this Mind & Language paper). On Pietroski's view, "monadicity" (expression type $M$, analogous to $\langle e,t\rangle$) is rampant in natural language semantics, "dyadicity" (type $D$, analogous to relational types) is limited; and that's about it.

So if you were a Pietroskian, you'd be very happy to take data like (1) and (2) as suggesting that names have a slightly richer type than the traditional view suggests. The strange thing that I've been noticing lately is that there are instances where expressions that the Pietroskian would be willing to accept as a relational type — say, analogous to type $\langle e,\langle e,t\rangle\rangle$ — which nonetheless behave as though they have the lower, predicative type.

For now, I'm just going to offer these up for your consideration—I've got a bunch of less fun work I've got to get to. They're all advertising examples. Is this just linguistic trickery? Or are these data pointing to something that we might ultimately have to worry about?

   (3)     Give the gift of more. (Cricket Wireless, 12/17/15)

   (4)     Activate your within. (Trulicity)

   (5)     Accelerating next. (Hewlett Packard)

   (6)     And that is where so comes from. (misheard??, 12/19/15)