Workshop on “Modal Inferences”

Organizers:
Ilaria Frana (University of Enna), Jacopo Romoli (Ulster University), Uli Sauerland (ZAS Berlin) and Salvatore Pistoia-Reda (ZAS Berlin/Siena)

Time and venue:
3-5 June 2020 at University of Enna Kore, Villa Reimann conference centre in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Invited speakers: t.b.a.

Description:
The goal of the workshop is to bring together theoretical and experimental researchers in Linguistics, Psychology and Philosophy, working on deepening our understanding of modal inferences (inferences about the epistemic state of the speaker or the addressee) and how they arise in natural languages. We welcome submissions articulating empirical and theoretical issues, including but not limited to the following areas.

Ignorance:
A variety of constructions have been associated with ignorance inferences about the speaker. Prominent among these are disjunctive statements like (i) suggesting that the speaker is ignorant as to whether Salvo is in Palermo and as to whether he is in Catania.

(i) Salvo is in Palermo or Catania.

Ignorance inferences like the above have been analysed as an implicature, arising either from pragmatic reasoning on the part of the hearer (Gazdar 1979, Sauerland 2004, Fox 2007, Pistoia-Reda 2014), or from more grammatical means (Meyer 2013, Buccola and Haida 2019, Fox 2017). Similar ignorance inferences have been observed in connection with modified numerals (see e.g. Nouwen 2010) and so-called modal indefinites (Kratzer & Shimoyama 2002, Chierchia 2006, Alonso-Ovalle and Menendez-Benito 2009, a.o.).
In recent years, the processing and acquisition profiles of ignorance inferences (Hochstein et al 2014, Dieuleveut et al 2019), as well as their interactions with presuppositions and other inferences (Gajewski and Sharvit 2009, Spector and Sudo 2017, Anvari 2018, Marty 2017), have been more and more at the centre of attention in this literature.

Bias and evidence:
Another line of work investigating modal inferences has focused on speaker/hearer’s epistemic biases in polar questions (Ladd 1981, Büring & Gunlogson (2000); Romero & Han 2004; Krifka 2017; Domaneschi et. al. 2017, a.o.). For instance, the English negative polar question in (ii) mandatorily conveys that the speaker had a prior bias for the positive answer to the question and is now faced with counter-evidence (here provided by Salvo’s assertion). These biases have been shown to interact with other perspectivally centered elements. For instance, the evidential future in Italian, which standardly gives rise to a conjectural interpretation in questions (Eckardt & Beltrama to appear) and is therefore marked in (ii)-a, becomes good in the negative polar question (ii)b (Frana & Menendez Benito 2019). In the domain of assertions, epistemic really or Verum focus, the Italian particle mica, which roughly translates as focused negation in denials, play a similar role as their counterparts in the question domain (Gutzmann & Castroviejo Miró 2011; Repp 2013; Romero 2014; Frana & Rawlins 2016, a.o.).

    (ii) Salvo: I have never been to the South of Italy.
    Cettina: Didn’t you go to Sicily last year?
    (iii) a. #Sarai sposato? b. Non sarai (mica) sposato?
    be_FUT.2G married Not be_FUT.2G married
    “Are you married, what’s your guess?” “You are not married, are you?” (roughly)

For each of the above areas, a variety of questions remain open, among which:

  1. What is the status of these inferences i.e. are they implicatures, presuppositions, or something else and how do they arise?
  2. What are the properties of the constructions and sentences associated with those inferences?
  3. Can they be embedded and what are the related constraints?
  4. How do they interact with each other and other inferences?
  5. What is the processing profile of those inferences and how are they acquired?

Parallel questions can be asked about epistemic inferences arising from evidentials, discourse particles, miratives, predicates of personal taste and related phenomena.