Workshop on “Modal Inferences”

+++Cancelled because of the covid-19 pandemic+++

Ilaria Frana (University of Enna “Kore”), Marie-Christine Meyer (ZAS Berlin), Salvatore Pistoia-Reda (ZAS Berlin/Siena), Jacopo Romoli (Ulster University), and Uli Sauerland (ZAS Berlin)

Time and venue:
New date 14. – 16. October 2021, hosted by the University of Enna “Kore” in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Invited speakers:
Emmanuel Chemla (ENS), Clemens Mayr (University of Göttingen), Lisa Matthewson (University of British Columbia) and Maribel Romero (University of Konstanz)

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.

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 focuses 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 posing the question with the intent of double-checking that bias in the face of counter-evidence (here provided by Salvo’s assertion) and, at the same time, challenge the addressee’s attempt to add the content of his assertion to the common ground. Recent work has shown that epistemic biases in polar questions may interact with other perspectivally centered elements, like evidentials or discourse particles (see for e.g. Bhadra 2016; Frana & Rawlins 2016; Frana & Menendez Benito 2019). In the domain of assertions, epistemic adverbs like really, Verum focus, discourse particles, focused negation in denials, have also been shown to trigger inferences on the epistemic state of the speaker with respect to the common ground (Gutzmann & Castroviejo Miró 2011; Repp 2013; Romero 2014, among many others).

(ii) Salvo: I have never been to the South of Italy.
Caterina: Didn’t you go to Sicily last year?

For each of the above areas, a number of questions remain open, including:

  1. What is the status of these inferences, i.e., are they implicatures, presuppositions, or some other type of not-at-issue content? How do they arise?
  2. What are the properties of the constructions and sentences associated with those inferences?
  3. Can the inference-trigger occur in embedded contexts, and if so, what are the related constraints?
  4. How do epistemic inferences interact with each other and other types of 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.