Barbara Abbott, Michigan State University

Definiteness and Familiarity

Larry and I, following Hawkins (1991), have argued at length in favor of a neo-Russellian analysis of definite descriptions (cf. Abbott & Horn 2011, Horn & Abbott 2012, and the works cited there). On this analysis, the essence of the definite article is a conventional (n.b., not conversational) implicature of uniqueness. The main competitor to this type of analysis is one that sees the essence of the as conveying familiarity (cf. Christophersen 1939, Heim 1982, Ludlow & Segal 2004, a.o.

We have given many arguments that familiarity cannot be viewed as encoded in the definite article of English. However, we have also acknowledged that there are occasions when a definite description does indeed convey an assumption that the addressee is familiar with the entity being referred to. Our 2011 paper briefly sketched an explanation for that implication of familiarity, but I have to say I don’t find it completely satisfactory, so this paper will return to that issue (i.e. the explanation for the implication of familiarity on those occasions when it does arise) and attempt a definitive solution to this puzzle.

David Beaver, University of Texas at Austin

Horn Scales Back Uniqueness!

Horn (2007) expounds a view of “the” and “a” differing only in that the former conventionally encodes uniqueness:


Significantly, the Comic Sans font he uses here is known to elicit a minimal degree of trust relative to other fonts, as later confirmed experimentally by Morris (2012), who himself cites Hauser as his initial source of information on typographical experimentation. It remains unclear whether these results hold for monkeys, but, leaving this lacuna aside, we take it that Horn intends the reader to recognize a division of typographic labor by which a marked font “tends to be interpreted as conveying a marked message (one which the unmarked alternative would not or could not have conveyed).” (Horn 1984) Given the association of Comic Sans with untrustworthiness and lack of rigor (suggesting, indeed, that this may be a case of what Horn 2013 dubbed an F-implicature; he is never entirely explicit about what the “F” stands for), Horn clearly intends by his font change to einen Wink geben (a phrase Horn   borrows from Frege with apparent fondness). The wink? Shockingly, Horn is suggesting through his use of Comic Sans a horrifically dark possibility, a possibility which, by implying fallibility of Il Papa della Pragmatica, tears at the foundations of modern semantic and pragmatic theory: the possibility that he is wrong.

In later work (notably Horn and Abbott 2012), Horn continues to argue, convincingly, for uniqueness. However, he has so far failed to reproduce the above two claims regarding the conversational source of familiarity and novelty in a font that even hints at gravitas. Indeed, to my knowledge he has offered no direct support for them at all.

I can only apologize for the slenderness of the contribution I have to offer in this talk. What I will suggest is that nothing more than the standard Horn scale <the,a>, combined with a yawn-inducingly obvious assumption about indexation, enables pragmatic derivation of familiarity and novelty from uniqueness. My modest goal is to pave the way for an eventual fully serified rendering of the above Comic Sans paragraph in the maestro’s preferred 12 point Times New Roman.

Horn, L., 1984. “Toward a new taxonomy for pragmatic inference: Q-based and R-based implicature.” Meaning, form, and use in context: Linguistic applications (1984): 11-42.

Horn, L., 2007. Toward a Fregean pragmatics: “ Voraussetzung”, “Nebengedanke”, “Andeutung”. In I. Kecskes and L. Horn (Eds.), Explorations in pragmatics: linguistic, cognitive and intercultural aspects, pp. 39–69. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Horn, L., 2013. “I love me some datives: Expressive meaning, free datives, and F-implicature.” Beyond expressives: Explorations in use-conditional meaning : 151-199.

Horn, L. and B. Abbott, 2012. “<the,a>: (in)definiteness and implicature,” In W. Kabasenche, M. O’Rourke, and M Slater (eds.) Reference and Referring. MIT Press.

Morris, E., 2012. “Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth”, Opinionator, The New York Times, 8/8/2012

Betty Birner, Northern Illinois University.

‘Allo there!’ Pragmatics, Inversion, and the Type/Token Distinction

In previous work (Birner 2013) I proposed that certain sets of syntactic structures constitute what I termed ‘alloforms’ – i.e., contextually conditioned variants of an abstract construction. In this paper I propose that English inversion is an alloform of both preposing and postposing, serving in any particular instance as one or the other but not both. Although this analysis counters my own previous work arguing that inversion is a distinct construction, this proposal can account for the distribution of inversion in discourse without proposing an inversion-specific constraint, while also accounting for the difference between the distribution of inversion and that of the ‘PP+there’ structure, which incorporates both preposing and postposing simultaneously. This account has ramifications for the distinction between a single construction and compositionally built up complexes of multiple constructions, as well as for the question of what constitutes a ‘construction’ in general.

Elisabeth Camp, Rutgers University

A Dual Act Analysis of Slurs

Slurs are incendiary linguistic expressions, so much so that hearers typically take offense at utterances containing slurs embedded within ‘inoculating’ contexts such as conditionals, speech and attitude reports, and even direct quotation. I argue that explaining the variability in slurs’ projective behavior supports a view on which slurs make two distinct but coordinated contributions to the illocutionary act a speaker undertakes by her utterance: a truth-conditional predication of group membership, and a commitment to the appropriateness of a derogating perspective on that group. Different semantic constructions and pragmatic contexts alter the relative prominence and scope of these two acts.

Donka Farkas, University of California Santa Cruz

From Sentence Forms to Conventions of Use via Horn’s Pragmatic Division of Labor

In this talk I will apply Horn’s (1984) principle of the pragmatic division of labor to a new domain, namely that of the connection between sentence forms (such as falling declaratives, polar interrogatives, tag interrogatives) and their various conventions of use.  The goal is to associate to unmarked forms a simple, uniform convention of use, and to marked forms more complex conventions of use, which are connected to their special forms.

Anastasia Giannakidou, University of Chicago

Assertoric Inertia and NPI-rescuing as Veridicality Conflict: a Fresh Look at NPI-licensing with Emotive Verbs

Duffley and Larrivée (2015) present corpus data showing that English NPIs appear infrequently in the complements of emotive verbs. This fact supports analyses where emotive verbs are weaker licensers, or rescuers (Giannakidou 1998, 2006). In this paper, I present further experimental data from Greek showing that NPIs in emotive clauses are less accepted than with regular licensers, and by some speakers not accepted at all (Chatzikonstantinou et al. 2015; cf. Xiang et al 2015 for differing behavior in English). The observed weakness of emotive verbs as NPI-licensers requires that we rephrase licensing vs. rescuing in terms of conflict between veridicality in the presupposition vs. nonveridicality in the assertion. Veridicality conflict produces weaker licensers (only, emotives), and this makes us rethink of rescuing (Giannakidou 2006), and assertoric inertia (Horn 2002) not as categorical modes of NPI licensing, but in a more integrated way.

Patricia Irwin, University of Pennsylvania

Our Asses, Ourselves

This work presents an overview of the syntax, semantics, and prosody of the discourse -ass construction in African American English, as in “Get all that ugly-ass junk out of here”. This construction involves attributive modification in which a noun or adjective (called the “associate”) forms a constituent with the word ass and modifies a head noun. The work describes the syntactic distribution of both the associate and the word ass.

Arguments are presented that support an analysis in which -ass is not a nominal but a functional head that categorizes its sister as adjectival, similar to -ish and -y in mainstream English. Semantically, it is argued that discourse -ass is an expressive in the sense of Potts (2007b): it is “semantically bleached” (Spears 1998), and its semantic contribution is not truth conditional. The work shows how discourse -ass has the properties associated with expressives as articulated by Potts (2007b) and as first observed about the construction in Spears (1998).

Pauline Jacobson, Brown University

What Ellipsis Might Tell us About ‘Neg Raising’ (and Vice-Versa)

In my paper ‘I can’t seem to figure this out’ (in the Birner and Ward (eds.) festschrift for Larry) I observed that certain assumptions about VP Ellipsis show that the ‘can’t seem to’ construction must be compositional. This was based on the observation that the following is good:  

(1)  Lance can’t seem to get to a 9 o’clock class, and neither can Rosie. 

But the phenomenon and relevant interactions is much more general than just a question about the compositionality of the ‘can’t seem to’ construction. In this talk, I examine the interaction of so-called Neg Raising constructions with VP Ellipsis.  Consider a run of the mill VPE case like (2) on the obvious understanding:

(2) Lindsay can ski that course in four minutes, and Bode can too.

We can contrast three distinct positions regarding the ‘missing VP’ in (2).  (i) there is actual linguistic material there, which is silenced or deleted on the basis of formal identity with some other overt VP in the discourse context (Ross, 1967 and many since); (ii) there is actual linguistic material there, silenced or deleted on the basis of meaning identity with the meaning of some other VP (Merchant, 2001 though for a different domain); (iii) nothing is there and a meaning is just supplied (much like in the case of other ‘free variables’) (Hardt, 1992 (sort of), Jacobson 2003).  I first present arguments against (i) (and some against (ii)) – some old, some new, and if time permits will answer some of the time honored implicit or explicit arguments for the silent linguistic material approach (either version).  I then consider the interaction of VPE with Neg Raising; a key case being (3) –  preliminary informant work confirms that (3) is perhaps slightly off but not terrible (and no worse than parallel cases having nothing to do NPIs):

(3) Thelma wants to take her junior sabbatical in the fall semester, but Louise doesn’t until the spring semester.  

(Other cases will be examined to make the same point.)  The astute  reader can fill in the rest. If there is syntactic Neg Raising, then there must be silent linguistic material, based, moreover on formal identity. If you are convinced that formal identity for VPE can’t be right, you must conclude that there is no syntactic NR. Potentially, then, this is a new argument in the ongoing debate (see, e.g., Collins and Postal 2014 and Horn 2014) regarding the status of NR as syntactic rule vs. some kind of pragmatic strengthening.  

Sally McConnell-Ginet, Cornell University

Semantics and Pragmatics in/of Transition

Early on, Larry Horn challenged the sharp division between semantics and pragmatics, bringing precision into the study of many matters once dismissed as ‘just’ pragmatics. His neo-Gricean approach has led to a much richer and more complex view of the interaction of semantics and pragmatics than Grice himself initially envisaged or than was widely assumed in the first blush of formal semantic inquiry in linguistics, spearheaded by Larry’s “Doktormutter,” Barbara Partee. At the same time, Larry’s extraordinary erudition and his voracious appetite for all matters linguistic has led him to explore issues in lexical semantics, dialectology, and the interaction of language, gender, and sex, none of them “trendy” topics in formal linguistics. To mark Larry’s transition to the status of professor emeritus, I will talk about some of the linguistic issues raised by gender/sex transitioning: reference (e.g., pronouns, kin terms, proper names) and lexical innovations (e.g., cis-sexism) prompted by trans-activism and, thanks to people like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, increasing trans-visibility.

Jason Merchant, University of Chicago

The 1AEX Can Be Reduced to Selection

The 1-Advancement Exclusiveness Law (1AEX) was designed to rule out passives of unaccusatives, and while it was cast as a wider constraint, it was merely a stipulation about the kinds of derivations that RG would tolerate. Nevertheless, the generalization it was meant to account for–Perlmutter’s Generalization–failed to receive any account at all in GB or Minimalism: Kratzer’s analysis of Voice in particular and its descendents fail to block passives of unaccusatives. I show that a more articulated syntax of Voice, where Voice selects for v, can successfully code Perlmutter’s Generalization and locate in the lexicon differences between languages such as Dutch and English; the analysis permits pseudopassives and blocks pseudomiddles.

Barbara Partee, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

An ever-so-brief history of semantics, pragmatics, and Larry

Tracing the history of formal semantics is one thing; but trying to trace the history of semantics and pragmatics — what those terms cover, what the relation between them is, how that has changed over time — is daunting. And it’s daunting in part because of the work of a few people like Larry Horn, who ask deep questions and look for answers wherever they might be found, without any particular respect for established disciplinary boundaries. It’s also daunting for me because I think Larry is a much better historian than I am. But I’ll try to make my contribution brief and relevant and such as is required for the goals of this occasion.

Jerry Sadock, University of Chicago

Skinning the Communicative Cat

There are many ways to skin a cat, but once you have tried one method, you need a new cat for the next one. Not so linguistic communication. One and the same communicative cat can be skinned in two or more ways at the same time, providing  for robustness in the communication that a non-redundant analysis would not.

In 1978 Larry Horn asked, “Is N[egative] R[aising] a syntactic, a semantic, or pragmatic phenomenon?”, answering his own question “Yes, guilty as charged, on all counts …” In the foreword to Collins and Postal (2014) Horn described that response as “tentative and unsatisfying”. While I can’t disagree with the tentative part, I find the idea of multiple, overlapping accounts of linguistic phenomena entirely satisfying.  I demonstrate here the naturalness of simultaneous grammatical analyses with examples from phonology and morphology in addition to syntax, semantics and pragmatics.

“Remarks on Neg-Raising”, Syntax and Semantics 9: Pragmatics, P. Cole, ed., 129-220. New York: Academic Press, 1978.

Collins, Chris and Paul M. Postal. 2014. Classical NEG Raising: An Essay on the Syntax of Negation. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Gregory Ward, Northwestern University

Fearing that first question by Larry: Demonstratives Licensed by Familiar Event-Types

Previous work on the pragmatics of English demonstratives (Gundel et al. 1993, Diessel 1999) has shown that the distal demonstrative may be used non-deictically to indicate that the referent is among the entities presumed familiar to this particular speaker-hearer dyad and not generally known/inferable on the basis of world knowledge, as in (1).

(1) That dog next door kept me awake.

[=Gundel et al. 1993, ex. (5)]

In this talk, I discuss a related but distinct use of distal demonstratives licensed by shared knowledge of event-types rather than by private shared knowledge of particular entities, as in

(2) a. Every fatheri dreads that moment when hisi oldest child leaves home.

[=King 2001, ex. 1.4]

b. I’m not really fit to talk in the morning until I’ve had that first cup of coffee.


Here, the entities specified by the demonstrative NP stand proxy for instances of event-types that are presumed to be familiar on the basis of shared cultural narratives. Thus, as with other non-deictic uses, this use of the distal is subject to a familiarity condition; however, how this condition is satisfied is realized differently across its various uses.

Ben Zimmer, / Wall Street Journal

Still Unpacking After All These Years: Non-Trivial Adventures in Pop Linguistics

The inimitable work of Larry Horn is studded with what we might call “Hornian examples.” A Hornian example can be drawn from any linguistic source imaginable, from Chaucer to Toni Braxton, to illuminate – or to problematize – some intriguing area of semantics, pragmatics, morphology, or syntax.

The eclectic nature of Hornian examples often brings to the fore “pop” sources that are not typically attended to by linguists: song lyrics, advertising copy, television and movie dialogue, sports announcer chatter, and so on. While such examples might at first seem on the trivial side, they undoubtedly serve to enrich scholarly investigations by illustrating, in an engaging fashion, how linguistic structures live “in the wild” rather than in manufactured example sentences.

Unpacking real-world “pop” examples can also lead to unexpected research trajectories and enhance our understanding of the dynamics and diversity of language use. Here I discuss some valuable Hornian examples, particularly involving the lexical morphology of English negation, that have informed my own writing on linguistic subjects for audiences within and beyond academia.