The Semantics and Pragmatics of Conditional Connectives (workshop at the 43rd Annual Conference of the DGfS)

Time and venue: 24.-26. February 2021 at the University of Freiburg, Germany

Invited speakers: Anastasia Giannakidou (U. Chicago) & Patrick G. Grosz (U. Oslo)

Workshop organizers: Mingya Liu & Mathias Barthel (HU Berlin)

Program committee: in addition to organizers and invited speakers, also Debopam Das, Markus Egg, Fabienne Martin and Florian Schäfer (HU Berlin), Karolina Krzyżanowska (ILLC Amsterdam), Niels Skovgaard-Olsen (U. Göttingen) and Yan Jiang (SOAS London)

Call for Papers:
We invite abstract submissions addressing the distribution, syntax, semantics and pragmatics of conditional connectives in relation to narrow linguistic or broad pragmatic contexts across languages, or related aspects of conditionals in general. We welcome contributions using different (e.g., formal, diachronic, experimental, corpus-linguistic, computational) methods.

  • Abstracts should be anonymous, at most 2 pages long with 2.5cm margins on all sides, and must use Time New Roman font of at least 11 points. References should be listed on the first page, with data and diagrams on the second page. Each author may submit up to one single authored abstract and one joint abstract. Please submit abstracts electronically in PDF format by September 15, 2020 (notification date: 05 October 2020):
  • Accepted abstracts will be assigned for 30-minute oral presentations (including 10 minutes of discussion) in English.
  • A selection of the accepted presentations will be invited to submit a short paper (3000- 4000 words plus references or other supplementary materials) for publication through peer review within the open Special Issue of Linguistics Vanguard: Natural Language Conditionals and Conditional Reasoning:
    If you are interested in this publication option, please add “SI:” in your abstract title.
  • A limited number of travel grants of up to 500 Euro are available for accepted contributions by DGfS members without/with low income. Please note that based on the DGfS regulations, one may not present at more than one workshop at the conference while being able to co-author more than one presentation. While we hope that the conference can take place as planned, there might be changes due to Covid-19.

Meeting Description:
The SPOCC@DGfS2021 workshop will be part of the 43rd Annual Conference of the German Linguistic Society (DGfS-Jahrestagung 2021: The conference will take place on February 24-26, 2021, in Freiburg/Germany.

Conditionals are a widely studied topic in linguistics and cognitive science. One debate in the formal literature of semantics and pragmatics is concerned with the meaning contribution of conditional connectives (CCs). According to the restrictor analysis (Kratzer 1986/1991), English if is an operator with no semantics on its own and if-clauses are used to restrict overt or covert modal operators or generic frequency operators. This analysis has inspired many insightful follow-up studies through which it becomes clear that the interpretation of conditional sentences and their semantic/pragmatic properties are subject to a process of semantic and pragmatic modulation. However, the modulating role of CCs in conditional sentences remains far from clear. In order to study the semantics and pragmatics of CCs, especially how they modulate the interpretation of conditionals in interaction with narrow and broad context, the SPOCC Project ( focuses on the following three empirical domains at the semantics-pragmatics interface:

  • Biconditionals and conditional perfection: Natural language possesses CCs that are arguably inherently biconditional, for example, on condition that or the so-called exceptive conditionals e.g. English only if, except if, unless or Mandarin chufei, cai (cf. Montolio 2000, Alexe 2013, Espino and Villar 2016). It is not clear to what extent these exceptive CCs resemble / differ from one another, in one language and across languages. Take for example the English exceptive CCs except if and unless: While some authors hold that they are semantically equivalent (Declerck and Reed 2000, Geis 1973), others argue that they differ in establishing exceptive spaces of different kinds (Dancygier and Sweetser 2005). In Spanish, apparently similar exceptive CCs differ in their ability to combine with mood: Excepto si / salso si (counterparts of English except if) can be combined with either indicative or subjunctive, whereas a menos que / a no ser que (counterparts of English unless) can only be combined with the subjunctive mood (Espino, Rodríguez, Oliva and Sánchez-Curbelo 2015: 41). According to some researchers (García-Madruga et al. 2008), exceptive conditionals differ from basic conditionals and also differ among themselves in terms of processing complexity. While biconditional CCs mark the antecedent as the necessary condition for the consequent semantically, some CCs arguably do so only pragmatically (Geis and Zwicky 1971, van der Auwera 1997, Horn 2000, Johnson-Laird and Byrne 2002, Noveck, Bonnefond and van der Henst 2011, et seq.). The observation that basic CCs (e.g. English if) sometimes get a biconditional (i.e. iff) interpretation obtains across languages. However, few studies investigate the exact influence of the type of CCs (e.g. less typical and/or more complex ones) or that of discourse context in this respect.
  • Non-at-issue meanings: While it is controversial whether conditional perfection involves pragmatic inferences, conditionals undoubtedly induce pragmatic inferences at the levels of presuppositions and implicatures. Visconti (1996a: 555), for example, argues that CCs can contribute secondary – in recent terms, ‘non-at-issue’ – meanings concerning a ‘propositional attitude’ towards the modified propositions, such as the speaker’s epistemic, deontic or emotional evaluation towards the antecedent or the consequent. In Italian, Visconti claims that the CCs nel caso che ‘in the case that’, nell’eventualità che ‘in the eventuality that’ and casomai ‘if-ever’ differ in terms of the speaker’s attitude towards the antecedent ‘p’ that is expressed at the level of conventional implicatures: While nel caso che is epistemically neutral, nell’eventualità che expresses a negative bias ‘unlikely(p)’ and casomai conveys an even stronger bias, namely, ‘improbable(p)’. In Liu (2019) and Liu and Wang (2020), the authors report cross-linguistic and experimental evidence from German and Mandarin that CCs show differences in terms of speaker commitment (see Giannakidou and Mari 2017) at the non-at-issue dimension. In addition to epistemic commitment, conditionals can also trigger causal inferences, the semantic and pragmatic nature of which is under debate (Schulz 2011; Krzyżanowska 2019; Krzyżanowska, Collins and Hahn 2017, Skovgaard-Olsen in press; Skovgaard-Olsen, Singmann and Klauer 2016).
  • Polarity items and discourse particles: Another empirical domain where conditionals have been studied is related to their ability to license/anti-license polarity items (see Ladusaw 1980, Heim 1984, Giannakidou 1998, von Fintel 1999). Moving from basic CCs to less basic ones, Mandarin counterfactual CC yaobushi ‘if-not’ (Jiang 2019) does not license negative polarity items (NPIs) unlike ruguo/yaoshi…bu ‘if…not’ (cf. Ippolito and Su 2014 for their analysis of the negative infix as light negation). Also, it has been claimed in Geis (1973) and Leslie (2008) that unless-clauses do not license NPIs unlike their semantic counterpart if…not. Hokesema (2012) points out that while the contrast between unless and if…not seems to hold for a great number of NPIs, unless-conditionals do license weak NPIs such as any, ever and at all. However, the validity of the observation is far from clear, let alone a formal account thereof. Concerning positive polarity items (PPIs), Liu (2012) has noted that near-synonymous evaluative adverbs (EADVs) such as leider/unglücklicherweise ‘unfortunately’ in German that tend not to occur with sentence negation (i.e. show PPI properties) do not have the same distributional behavior w.r.t. conditionals (e.g. with the German CCs wenn vs. falls). These phenomena raise questions w.r.t. the degrees of speaker commitment expressed by NPIs, PPIs, CCs, other discourse particles as well as their ways of interaction, which await in-depth investigations.

Logical connectives and operators in natural language have been a key empirical domain of study in theoretical and psycholinguistics. However, CCs are quite understudied, especially in comparison to the well-studied negation, disjunction and quantifiers. The workshop aims to bring together current studies that address the distribution, syntax, semantics and pragmatics of CCs in relation to narrow linguistic or broad pragmatic contexts across languages (on but not restricted to the questions listed above), as well as studies on conditionals in general. We welcome contributions using different (e.g., formal semantic/pragmatic, diachronic, experimental, corpus-linguistic) methods.

Selected references:
– Alexe, R. (2013). Classification of complex conditional connectives in Romanian. Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Braşov 6(55), 35-40.
– Arregui, A. C. (2005). On the accessibility of possible worlds: the role of tense and aspect. Doctoral Dissertation, UMass Amherst.
– Van der Auwera, J. (1997). Pragmatics in the last quarter century: The case of conditional perfection. Journal of Pragmatics 27: 261-274.
– Blümel, A. (2019) Adnominal conditionals in German. Linguistics Vanguard 5(s3).
– Bonnefond, M., Van der Henst, J., Gougain, M., Robic, S., Olsen, M., Weiss, O., & Noveck, I. (2012). How pragmatic interpretations arise from conditionals: Profiling the Affirmation of the Consequent argument with reaction time and EEG measures. Journal of Memory and Language, 67(4), 468- 485.
– Csipak, E. (2019). Adverbial clauses and V3. Linguistics Vanguard 5(s3).
– van Canegem-Ardijns, I. and W. van Belle. (2008). Conditionals and types of conditional
perfection. Journal of Pragmatics 40: 349-376.
– Dancygier, R. and E. Sweetser. (2005). Mental Spaces in Grammar: Conditional construction. Cambridge University Press.
– Declerck, E. and S. Reed. (2000). The Semantics and Pragmatics of unless. English Language and Linguistics 4, 201-241.
– Espino O. and B. Villar. (2016). Priming Effect in affirmative complex conditional connectives. Journal of Cognitive Psychology: DOI: 10.1080/20445911.2016.1188820
– von Fintel, K. (1999). NPI Licensing, Strawson Entailment, and Context dependency. Journal of Semantics 16(2): 97-148.
– García-Madruga, J.A., N. Carriedo, S. Moreno-Ríos, F. Gutiérrey and W. Schaeken. (2008).
Unless reasoning. The Spanish Journal of Psychology 11(2): 386-399.
– Geis, M. L. and A. M. Zwicky. (1971). On invited inferences. Linguistic Inquiry 2: 561-566.
– Geis, M. (1973). If and Unless. In B. Kachru, R. Lees, Y.Malkiel, A. Petrangeli and S. Saporta (Eds.), Issues in Linguistics: Papers in Honor of Henry and Renee Kahane, 231–253. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
– Giannakidou, A. (1998). Polarity Sensitivity as (Non)veridical Dependency. John Benjamins, Amsterdam-Philadelphia.
– Giannakidou, A. & A. Mari. (2017). Epistemic future and epistemic MUST: Nonveridicality, evidence, and partial knowledge. In Joanna Blaszczak, Anastasia Giannakidou, Dorota Klimek-Jankowska & Krzysztof Migdalski (eds.), Mood, Aspect, Modality Revisited: New Answers to Old Questions, 75–124. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
– Grosz, P. G. (2012). On the Grammar of Optative Constructions. Amsterdam; Philadelphia : John Benjamins Pub. Co.
– Heim, I. (1984). A note on negative polarity and downward entailingness. In C. Jones and P. Sells (Eds.), Proceedings of NELS 14, 98-107. Amherst: GLSA.
– Hoeksema, J. (2012). On the natural history of negative polarity items. Linguistic Analysis 38: 3-34.
– Horn, L. R. (2000). From IF to IFF: Conditional perfection as pragmatic strengthening. Journal of Pragmatics 32, 289–326.
– Ippolito, M. and J. Su. (2014). Counterfactuals, negation and polarity. In L. Crnĭc and U. Sauerland (Eds.), The Art and Craft of Semantics: A Festschrift for Irene Heim, 225-243. Cambridge: MITWPL.
– Jiang, Y. (2014). On the lexical meaning of conditional connectives in Chinese. In X. Su and T. He (Eds.): CLSW 2014, LNAI 8922, 43-54.
– Jiang, Y. Ways of Expressing Counterfactual Meaning in Context, Linguistics Vanguard.
– LINGVAN: vol:5 (2019), iss:S3.
– Johnson-Laird, P.N. and R.M.J. Byrne. (2002). Conditionals: A theory of meaning, pragmatics and inference. Psychological Review 109(4), 646-678.
– Kratzer, A. (1991). Conditionals. In A. von Stechow and D. Wunderlich (Eds.), Semantics: an international handbook of contemporary research, 651–656. Berlin: De Gruyter.
– Kratzer, A. (1986). Conditionals. Chicago Linguistics Society 22(2), 1-15.
– Krzyżanowska, K. Collins, P. and Hanh, U. (2017). Between a conditional’s antecedent and its consequent: discourse coherence vs. probabilistic relevance. Cognition, Volume 164, pp. 199-205.
– Krzyżanowska, K. (2019). What Is Wrong with False-Link Conditionals? Linguistics Vanguard 5(s3).
– Ladusaw, W. (1980). Polarity Sensitivity as Inherent Scope Relations. Garland, New York.
– Leslie, S.-J. (2008). “If”, “unless”, and quantification. Compositionality, Context and Semantic Values. Volume 85 of the series Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy: 3-30.
– Liu, M. (2012). Multidimensional Semantics of Evaluative Adverbs. Leiden/Boston: Brill.
– Liu, M. (ed). (2019). Natural Language Conditionals and Conditional Reasoning. Special Issue of Linguistics Vanguard 5(s3).
– Liu, M. (2019). The Elastic Nonveridicality Property of Indicative Conditionals. Linguistics Vanguard 5(s3).
– Liu, M. (2019). Current Issues in Conditionals. Linguistics Vanguard 5(s3).
– Liu, M. and Wang, Y. (2020). Non-at-issue Meanings of Mandarin Conditional Connectives. In Proceedings of the 21th Chinese Lexical Semantics Workshop, the City University of Hong Kong.
– Martin, F. (2015). The fake imperfective aspect in subjunctive conditionals is real. Proceedings of NELS 46.
– Montolío, E. (2000). On affirmative and negative complex conditional connectives. In Couper-Kuhlen, E. and B. Kortmenn (Eds.), Cause, Condition, Concession, Contrast. Mouton de Gruyter. New York.
– Noveck, I., M. Bonneford and J.-B. Van der Henst. (2011). A deflationary account of invited inferences. Belgian Journal of Linguistics 25: 195-208.
– Schulz, K. (2011). “If you’d wiggled A, then B would’ve changed”: Causality and counterfactual conditionals. Synthese 179 (2), 239-251.
– Skovgaard-Olsen, N., Singmann, H. & Klauer, K. C. (2016). The relevance effect and conditionals. Cognition, 150, 26-36.
– Skovgaard-Olsen, N. (in press). Relevance and Conditionals: A Synopsis. In Elqayam, S., Douven, I., Cruz, N., Evans, J. (eds.), Festschrift for David Over. Routledge.
– Visconti, J. (1996a). On English and Italian complex conditional connectives: Matching features and implicatures in defining semanto-pragmatic equivalence. Language Sciences 18(1): 549-573.
– Visconti, J. (1996b). Deverbal conditional connectives in English and Italian. The Italianist 16(1): 305-325.
– Weisser, P. (2019). Equal rights for all conditionals. Linguistics Vanguard 5(s3).