Nominal Modification

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Florian Schwarz’s talks and a workshop

We are pleased to announce that next weekFlorian Schwarz (UPenn) will be giving two talks, on June 27th (2pm – 4pm) and June 29th (2pm – 4pm).
He will also give a third talk on July 11th (2pm – 4pm) and a workshop on July 4th (4pm – 6pm) and 6th (2pm – 4pm).
Please see below for details!
June 27 (2pm – 4pm, SH 4.102)
Redundancy in unfolding contexts: hierarchical vs. linear structure.

(joint work with Anton Ingason and Dorothy Ahn)


Contributions to conversation are generally assumed to be informative, i.e., there is a pragmatic constraint against redundancy. In the framework of Stalnaker (1978), assertive utterances update the contextual Common Ground, represented as the set of worlds compatible with what is mutually assumed for the purposes of conversation. The redundancy constraint then requires each assertion to update the Common Ground set of worlds to a proper subset. More intricate issues arise when trying to spell out how redundancy gets evaluated in complex sentences containing multiple clauses. The questions here are very much parallel to those arising for presupposition projection, since presuppositions come with the opposite requirement, that their content is entailed by (i.e., a super-set of, in sets-of-worlds terms) the Common Ground. Much recent work has considered different options for explicating the relevant notion of Local Contexts, going back to Stalnaker, which makes it possible to interpret parts of multi-clause sentences relative to a context that incorporates other parts of the same sentence (most prominently, Schlenker 2009). One fundamental question in this area is what dimensions of order are at play in constructing local contexts: are they strictly based on linear order, or does hierarchical structure have a role to play as well? This question has broad repercussions for the architecture of the semantics-pragmatics interface, as well as for foundational questions about the role of linear order in grammar. This talk presents ongoing research that explores this question by looking at redundancy effects in nominal modification. In order to tease apart effects of linear and hierarchical order, we compare left- and right-headed languages, namely English and Korean. While the intuitive judgment data reported in Ingason (2016) suggest that hierarchical order is crucial, a subsequent experimental investigation provides a more nuanced picture, suggesting that both hierarchical and linear order have an impact on the corresponding acceptability judgments. This will lead to a discussion of theoretical implications and possible future extensions, including with related presuppositional phenomena.

Background reading: Ingason, A. K. (2016). Context updates are hierarchical. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics1(1), 37. DOI:


Stalnaker, Robert. 1978. Assertion. In Peter Cole (ed.),Syntax and semantics 9, 315–322. New York: Academic Press.

Schlenker, Philippe. 2009. Local contexts. Semantics and Pragmatics2(3). 1–78.doi:10.3765/sp.2.3.

June 29 (2pm – 4pm, SH 1.109)
Asymmetry in Presupposition Projection from Conjunction
(joint work with Matthew Mandelkern, Jacopo Romoli, and Jeremy Zehr)
Is the basic mechanism behind presupposition projection and filtering fundamentally asymmetric or symmetric? This is a foundational question for the theory of presupposition, which has been at the center of attention in the literature recently(Schlenker 2008b, 2009; Rothschild 2011/2015 a.o.). It also bears on broader issues concerning the source of asymmetries observed in natural language: are these simply rooted in superficial asymmetries of language use (since language use unfolds in time, which we experience as fundamentally asymmetric) or can they be, at least in part, directly encoded in linguistic knowledge and representations? In this paper we aim to make progress on these questions by exploring presupposition projection across conjunction, which has typically been taken as a central piece of evidence that presupposition filtering is asymmetric. As a number of authors have recently pointed out, however, the evidence which has typically been used to support this conclusion is muddied by independent issues concerning judgments of redundancy,and additional concerns arise with regards to the possibility of local accommodation.We report on a series of experiments, building on previous work by Chemla &Schlenker (2012); Schwarz (2015), using inference and acceptability tasks, which aim to control for both of these potential confounds. In our results, we find strong evidence for asymmetric left-to-right filtering across conjunctions, but no evidence for right-to-left filtering—even when right-to-left filtering would, if available, res-cue an otherwise unacceptable sentence. These results suggest that presupposition filtering across conjunction is indeed asymmetric, contra suggestions in the recent literature (Schlenker 2008a, 2009 a.o.) and paves the way for the investigation of further questions about the nature of this asymmetry and presupposition projection more generally. Our results also have methodological implications, as the results of our acceptability and inference tasks in testing for ‘projected content’ exhibit some important differences, which in turn have theoretical repercussions for understanding the nature of projection and presuppositions more generally.


Chemla, Emmanuel & Philippe Schlenker. 2012. Incremental vs. symmetric accounts of presupposition projection: an experimental approach. Natural LanguageSemantics 20(2). 177–226. doi:10.1007/s11050-012-9080-7.

Rothschild, Daniel. 2011/2015. Explaining presupposition projection with dynamic semantics. Semantics and Pragmatics4(3). 1–43. doi:10.3765/sp.4.3.

Schlenker, Philippe. 2008a. Be articulate: a pragmatic theory of presupposition projection. Theoretical Linguistics34(3). 157–212. doi:10.1515/THLI.2008.013.

Schlenker, Philippe. 2008b. Presupposition projection: Explanatory strategies. Theoretical Linguistics38(3). 287–316. doi:10.1515/THLI.2008.021.

Schlenker, Philippe. 2009. Local contexts. Semantics and Pragmatics2(3). 1–78.doi:10.3765/sp.2.3.

Schwarz, Florian. 2015. Symmetry and incrementality in conditionals. In Florian Schwarz (ed.),Experimental Perspectives on Presuppositions. Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics 45, 195–213. Springer.

July 4 (4pm – 6pm, SH 2.109) & July 6 (2pm – 4pm, SH 2.109)
Workshop on Web-based Experiments using the PennController for Ibex.
(with Jeremy Zehr)
IBEX is a free online platform allowing you to design and run experiments online in a standard browser. It was originally developed for a fairly small inventory of text-based psycholinguistic tasks. With support from Penn’s University Research Foundation, we (Jeremy Zehr and Florian Schwarz, Penn Linguistics) have been developing a new module, called PennController, which aims at facilitating the implementation of a wide range of dynamic and interactive features (visual stimuli, flexible multi-stage trial structure, scripted / timed events, playing audio files, integrating videos), as well as increasing user-friendliness.

This two-part workshop provides an introduction to the relevant aspects of IBEX and the core features of the PennController, with the aim to provide participants with enough basic knowledge to begin implementing experiments on their own. The first part of the workshop focuses on details of how to build individual experimental trials, including presentation of text, pictures, and audio, and allowing for response options including clicks, key-presses, entering ratings, and providing typed-in text. The second part covers how to build an entire experiment, from managing a larger number of trials and presentation order, to including introductory and final pages, tying it in with various subject recruitment platforms, and analyzing data.

Initial documentation can be found here (still work in progress), and we will roughly follow the online documentation for a previous workshop here (also still evolving). Additional instructions for necessary preparatory steps for the workshop will be sent around about a week prior to the workshop.

July 11 (2pm – 4pm, SH 2.109)
Presupposition Projection from Quantified Sentences – Experimental Advances
(joint work with Jeremy Zehr, Cory Bill, Lyn Tieu, and Jacopo Romoli)
The nature of presupposition projection from the scope of quantificational expressions, particularly negative ones, continues to be both theoretically and empirically controversial. Building on recent experimental work in this area (Chemla 2009a, Sudo et al. 2012, Geurts and van Tiel 2015), we investigate the interpretation of sentences like ‘None of the bears won the race’, which could in principle be associated with three different readings in relation to the ‘participation’-presupposition of ‘win’: an existential reading, on which at least one of the bears participated and none won; a universal reading, on which all of the bears participated and none won; and a presuppositionless reading on which none of the bears both participated and won. We also extend the investigation to analogous sentences with the trigger stop, e.g. ‘None of the bears stopped running.’ Using a covered box task to investigate English-speaking adults’ interpretations of such sentences, we find empirical evidence for the presence of all three readings for both ‘win’ and ‘stop’. We then extended the study in two ways, with the aim of shedding light on how the various readings are related to one another, and in particular whether one of them should be considered basic. First, we re-ran a slight variant of the experiments with an explicit numeral in the restrictor (‘None of the three bears won the race.’), in order to assess the potential impact of domain restriction. Secondly, we ran versions of the experiments with 4-6 year-old children. Overall, we argue our results to favor a theoretical approach where the universal reading is basic and the existential (as well as presupposition-less) reading is derived through additional mechanisms. For ‘stop’, the numeral restrictor appears to block an existential reading, suggesting that such readings indeed can be captured based on universal projection plus domain restriction (though it had little impact with ‘win’). In the child data, we find a similar picture, with no evidence for a separate existential reading.


Chemla, E.: 2009a, Presuppositions of quantified sentences: Experimental data, Natural Language Semantics17(4), 299–340

Geurts, B. and van Tiel, B.: 2015, When “all the five circles” are four: New exercises in domain restriction, Topoi [Advance Access].

Sudo, Y., Romoli, J., Fox, D. and Hackl, M.: 2012, Variation of presupposition projection in quantified sentences, in Maria Aloni, Vadim Kimmelman and M. Westera (eds), Amsterdam Colloquium 2011, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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