NASSLLI 2012 June 18 - 22

Sign up here for our Mailing List:

Questions? Email us:

Search the site:

  Powered by Google

Meaning as Use: Indexicality, Expressives, and Self-Reference

Room: UTC 4.104


The slogan 'meaning is use', usually attributed to Wittgenstein, captures the insight that for many expressions of natural language, semantic theory should state rules of use rather than-- or in addition to-- specifying the concept or logical translation associated with the expression. This workshop aims to explore current and evolving ideas about this use-dependent aspect of language and its connections with other domains. For indexicals such as 'I', 'you', and 'now', "the referent is dependent on the context of use and the word provides a rule which determines the referent in terms of certain aspects of the context" (Kaplan). Self-reference is a special case of indexicality that presents its own set of puzzles (Kamp, Anand), and also bears connections to expressive content and evidentials. Expressives like 'damn' and 'bastard' convey important affective content in a special way that differs from the presentation of descriptive content (Potts). Evidential markers indicate the source or nature of the evidence for the information in a sentence in a way that is closely tied to self-ascription (McCready, Murray). In this workshop we explore a variety of topics and the connections between them, with presentations and discussion by leading contributors to this field.

Monday, June 18: Meaning as Use: Problems and Prospects

Eric McCready (Aoyama Gakuin University)
Stephen Wechsler (The University of Texas)

In this talk we will begin by introducing the problems addressed in this workshop, as laid out in the general workshop description above. Then we will focus on some specific issues of current interest: self-ascription in conjunct/disjunct systems, where verbs in first person declaratives or second person interrogatives bear a special marking; underspecified emotive content and how it is interpreted; and evidential marking.



Tuesday, June 19: Mental Indexicals and Linguistic Indexicals

Hans Kamp (The University of Texas & Universität Stuttgart)

In this talk we will assume (i) that mental representation of content generally involves an ‘indexical’ singular term ‘n’, which represents the ‘psychological present’, and (ii) that when the thought is a self-ascription (a ‘thought de se’), its representation also involves an ‘indexical’ singular term ‘i’, representing the self.

The occurrence of ‘i’ in the representation of a thought that a speaker wants to express in words licenses her use of the first person pronoun ‘I’; but her use of ‘I’ will produce in her addressee the representation of a de re ascription to her. (‘you’ produces discrepancies of the opposite kind; its use is licensed when the speaker puts a thought into words that is a de re ascription to the addressee, but will provoke the addressee into constructing the representation of a self-ascription.)

In a somewhat analogous way, the presence of ‘n’ in the mental representation of a speaker guides her choice of tenses and temporal adverbs, but the temporal information carried by these sentence elements can be reconverted to the same representational form that gave rise to them: speaker and addressee share their psychological present (at least in face-to-face conversation) and can represent it using the same forms.

The interactions between the mental indexicals ‘i’ and ‘n’ on the one hand and the linguistic indexicals ‘I’, ‘you’ and the tenses and temporal adverbials on the other merit careful scrutiny. This is true in particular when the thoughts that are being communicated between speaker and addressee involve nested attitude attributions – as when the speaker thinks, and ventures to say to the addressee, that she thinks that he does not like her.

The talk will present the forms of the representations, discuss the ways in which these representations can be converted into words and in which those words can in their turn be reconverted into mental representations by the recipient, with special attention to the nested embeddings mentioned above.


Wednesday, June 20: Remembering, Imagining, and De Se, Revisited

Pranav Anand (University of California at Santa Cruz)

The structure of imagistic attitudes like memory and imagination has received a great deal of attention in philosophy. For example, Berkeley (1710) and Nagel (1974) asked whether there are limits to our imaginative capacities and Williams (1973) asked if such imagistic experiences have an explicit 'perspective' or 'self' that orients the perception or pseudo-perception.

A linguistic question that arises is whether such perspectival information affects the truth conditions of ascriptions of memory and imagination. Vendler (1982) and Higginbotham (2003) explicitly say yes, focusing on examples with and without PRO, such as Vendler's 'I imagined swimming in the ocean' and 'I imagined myself swimming in the ocean'.

In this talk, I will argue that whatever perspectival distinctions we may wish to make in imagistic attitudes, they do not map cleanly onto obligatorily de se attitudes. Rather, I will argue that perspective arises either from the context-dependent nature of the expressions in question or constraints that imagistic experiences themselves bring to the table.



Thursday, June 21: The Indexical Component of Evidentiality

Sarah Murray, Cornell University

In this talk I discuss the indexical properties of evidential markers and how they compare to other indexicals. Based on this comparison, I argue that there are two kinds of indexical expressions found in natural language: pure indexicals and anaphoric indexicals. Pure indexicals, after Kaplan 1978, are exemplified by first person pronouns in English and Cheyenne (Algonquian: Montana). Anaphoric indexicals are exemplified by the reportative evidential in Cheyenne, roughly similar to the evidential adverb reportedly in English. Like the first person pronouns, both the Cheyenne reportative and English reportedly are anchored to the speaker in declarative sentences, discourse initially and discourse internally. For all of them, a change in the speaker affects the content of the sentence. However, in questions, the Cheyenne reportative and English reportedly are anchored to the addressee, unlike the first person pronouns. Examples such as evidentials in questions show that despite the strong similarities between first person pronouns and evidentials, they cannot be represented in exactly the same way. At the same time, their strong overlap must be accounted for.

This talk will also present an analysis of these two different kinds of indexicals where pure indexicals are analyzed a la Kaplan 1978 as referring to the context of utterance, represented by the speech event. The first person pronoun, for example, refers to the agent of the speech event. Anaphoric indexicals are analyzed as referring to the currently topical event. By default, in unembedded, declarative cases, the currently topical event is the speech event, the agent of which is the speaker. However, the topical event can change, depending on particular constructions in particular languages, yielding a restricted set of other individuals that the anaphoric indexicals can refer to. A formalization of this analysis is given in an update semantics with sequence based anaphora. This analysis accounts for the fact that by default anaphoric indexicals and pure indexicals refer to the same individuals. However, in questions or embedded cases, when the topical event changes, they refer to different individuals. In addition, this analysis accounts for the fact that Cheyenne reportatives are limited to secondhand reports.


Optional Readings:

Friday, June 22: The latent affective meaning of demonstratives

Eric Acton (Stanford)
Christopher Potts (Stanford)

Lakoff (1974) argues that affective demonstratives in English are markers of solidarity and shared sentiment, and that they can in turn be used to foster, reinforce, or tacitly insist upon a sense of common ground between a speaker and her audience. We will present quantitative corpus evidence that these affective uses are prevalent and robust, not only in English, but also in German and Japanese, and that similar effects are found with personal pronouns. The question then arises of where these affective, social meanings come from. Do they represent a semantic ambiguity, or can they be derived pragmatically? We will argue for a pragmatic approach. Specifically, we will seek to show that affective uses of this sort are expected on the theory of Elbourne (2008), in which both personal pronouns and demonstratives require the speaker and hearer to coordinate on contextually supplied properties and referential indices. These requirements draw on, and hence evoke the common ground that exists between speaker and hearer.



Optional Readings: