Workshop on Indefinites in Discourse

Klaus von Heusinger (Köln) & Edgar Onea (Göttingen)

University of Cologne - August 27th to 28th 2013

Neues Seminargebäude, Room S 23

Tuesday, 27.8. 2013
09.30Klaus von HeusingerIndefinites in Discourse and their Discourse Structuring Potential
14.00Edgar OneaScope and Function of Indefinites
16.30Ljudmila GeistIndefinites, Definites and Reduced Referentiality
Wednesday, 28.8. 2013
9.30Chiara GianolloThe specificity of aliquis from Latin to Romance
11.00Stefan HinterwimmerRequantification, Underquantification and Partial Focus in Indefinites
14.00Malte Zimmermann & Edgar Onea Exhaustiveness in Clefts. An experimental approach

Unfortunatelly, Hans Kamp and Umut Özge had to cancel their participation.

Local Organizer: Klaus von Heusinger   Klaus.vonHeusinger[at]


Ljudmila Geist, University of Stuttgart

Indefinites, Definites and Reduced Referentiality

In this paper I investigate the Accusative/Genitive alternation of objects in negated sentences in Russian. Since Accusative is assumed to indicate high individuation of the object, while Genitive indicates low individuation this case alternation is reminiscent of the phenomenon of differential object marking (DOM) known from a large number of languages. I argue for a treatment of this case alternation in Russian as an instance of DOM. It is based on a paradigmatic comparison of two realizations of the object with respect to the Proto-Role properties it gets in the event. I assume that NPs in Accusative bear an additional Proto-Patient Property ‘strong passive involvement’, while NPs in Genitive do not. This property is associated with an existential presupposition of the object referent. The analysis of Genitive as a part of speech category ‘noun’ following Pesetsky (2012) makes it closer to zero marking of objects in DOM languages. The proposed analysis has two implications: First, it allows to account for ‘low individuation’ of Genitive objects without assuming that they are of property-type, which would be problematic for pronouns and proper names in Genitive. Second, it provides a conceptual means for unification of symmetric DOM, where two cases alternate, with canonical asymmetric DOM, where a morphological case alternates with zero marking.

Chiara Gianollo, University of Cologne

The specificity of aliquis from Latin to Romance

As Haspelmath (1997) has shown, indefinites are diachronically quite unstable and, as such, can differ significantly even in closely related languages; at the same time, there are a number of recurrent paths of change within indefinite systems. A first look at Haspelmath’s (1997: 253-265) semantic maps for indefinites in Latin and in some Romance languages shows that the Latin sub-system of specific indefinites has not survived into the daughter languages.

I focus here on the development of aliquis from Classical to Late Latin, and I investigate the relevance of some observable changes for the history of Romance varieties. The data I have collected so far confirm the possibility of wide scope readings for aliquis, i.e. its behavior as a specific indefinite in Classical Latin. However, the corpus work has also confirmed Bertocchi et al.’s (2010: 46 ff.) observation that aliquis presents non-specific uses ‚next to a free-choice pronoun’. I will argue that such uses assume crucial relevance in the Late Latin development, and I will try to show how the semantic trajectory followed by aliquis fits into the comparative picture of cross-linguistically attested semantic shifts in the domain of indefinites.

Bertocchi, A., M. Maraldi, A. Orlandini. 2010. Quantification. In P. Baldi & P.Cuzzolin (eds), New Perspectives on Historical Latin Syntax, Vol. 3, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 19-173.

Haspelmath, M. 1997. Indefinite Pronouns. Oxford: OUP.

Klaus von Heusinger, University of Cologne

Indefinites in Discourse and their Discourse Structuring Potential

Indefinite noun phrases (or short “indefinites”) contribute to different semantic and pragmatic levels: (i) they make an existential contribution to the truth condition of a sentence, (ii) they introduce discourse referents as potential antecedents for subsequent anaphoric terms, and (iii) they furnish discourse referents with a “Discourse Structuring Potential”, i.e. they give information about the referential structure of the upcoming discourse, e.g. at what point in the discourse and how the entity associated with the discourse referent is going to be re-mentioned. The goals of this presentation are twofold. First, I present the potential interaction between the three aforementioned semantic-pragmatic levels. Second, I will speculate about extenting existing semantic theories through an account of the Discourse Structuring Potential, i.e. by a theory that models the forward looking discourse properties of indefinites.

Stefan Hinterwimmer, University of Cologne

Requantification, Underquantification and Partial Focus in Indefinites

Using (partly novel) evidence from quantificational variability effects in both mono- and biclausal sentences with indefinite noun phrases, we show that the traditional situation semantics approach to adverbial quantification which assumes both restrictor- and scope minimization (von Fintel 1994) is not able to account for the full pattern in a uni-form manner. A revision of this picture using neo-Davidsonian events (Herburger 2001) does not solve all of the problems either. We therefore propose an analysis which combines the idea that restrictor- and nucleus situations/events are related via initially underspecified matching functions (Rothstein 1995) with pragmatic assumptions concerning preferences for the specification of these matching functions as well as the independently motivated pragmatic principle Maximize Presuppositions! (MP, Heim 1991). Finally, we provide additional evidence that the Novelty Condition (Heim 1982) does not exist as an independent principle and that its putative effects, where they occur, can be derived from MP (cf. Singh 2011).

Hans Kamp, University of Stuttgart, University of Texas at Austin

The contribution of indefinites to the computation of Aspect

One of the well-known puzzles about aspect is the contrast between (1.a,b) and (1.c,d)

(1) a. Susan ate strawberries.
b. Susan drank wine.
c. Susan ate some strawberries.
d. Susan drank a bit of wine.

The familiar tests show that (1.a) and (1.b) are ‘cumulative’ and that (1.c,d) are not. (For instance, ‘for 10 minutes’ can be added felicitously to (1.a,b) but not to (1.c,d).) This is puzzling when we think that cumulativity of a Verb Phrase should be defined in terms of a certain structural property of its actual and possible extensions: both (1.a) and (1.c) are Cumulative VPs in the technical sense that if e and e’ are contiguous events satisfying VP, then so is the mereological sum e ⊕ e’ (and likewise for (1.b) and (1.d)). Krifka (1998) has proposed a solution to this problem according to which argument phrases like ‘some strawberries’ and ‘a bit of wine’ are raised to a position outside VP. This entails that the contribution they make to the question what kinds of events are described by VP can only involve their denotations. On the other hand, argument phrases like ‘strawberries’ and ‘wine’ are not raised out of the VP; because of this they can contribute their full content to the determination of the event type described by VP.

In this talk I will explore the implications of Krifka’s ‘scope solution’ to the puzzle presented by (1.a-d). The hypothesis that will guide this exploration is that noun phrases such as ‘a bit of wine’ and ‘some strawberries’ are ‘full DPs’ and that such phrases are always raised out of VP; but that phrases like ‘wine’ and ‘strawberries’ are not full DPs. These do not raise out of VP and this entails that their full content is available to semantic composition within the VP. This is the kind of ´contribution, I will suggest, that has some of the characteristic properties of what has been described in the literature as incorporation. I will assume, as a kind of default hypothesis, that such phrases are NPs.

The general picture that will (I hope) emerge is that ‘indefinites’ come in two varieties: Full DPs, which are subject to raising, and NPs, which are not full DPs and which make their semantic contribution via incorporation (at least when they are generated VP-internally).

Along the projection line from the VP to the full clause, aspect can be subject to further modification. Such modifications often involve binding of the eventuality variable introduced by the verb. In such cases a new eventuality variable is introduced whose values are the eventualities that are described by the complex eventuality predicates that result through binding of the first eventuality variable. It is, I hope to be able to argue, these additional aspectual operations at syntactic projection levels above the VP, which account for putative counterexamples to Krifka’s proposal of the kind brought up by, for instance, Zucchi and White.

Manfred Krifka "The Origins of Telicity". In S. Rothstein (ed.). Events and grammar. pp. 197–235. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988

Sandro Zucchi & Michael White „Twigs, sequences and the temporal constitution of predicates“ Linguistics and Philosophy 24 (2), pp. 223-270 (2001)

Umut Özge, Harvard

''Strong'' Indefiniteness and Topicality

The talk addresses the relation between “strong” or presuppositional readings of in-­‐definite noun phrases and the notion of topicality in its sentential and discourse-­‐level formulations. Previous discussions of the issue were generally based on the interpretative properties of indefinite noun phrases at positions associated with topicality (e.g. subject of an individual-­‐ level predicate, within the antecedent of a conditional). The talk aims to contribute to the debate with data from Turkish, which overtly marks “strong” indefiniteness at a position generally associated with focus rather than topic. It is argued on the basis of Turkish data that “strong” indefiniteness and topicality should be kept distinct.

Edgar Onea, University of Göttingen

Scope and Function of Indefinites.

In this talk I present a theory of indefinites which captures two of their natural properties: indefinites license donkey anaphora (Geach 1962) and they exhibit ‘specific’ readings in which they appear to scope out of scope islands. In various flavours of dynamic semantics (Kamp 1981, Heim 1982, Dekker (2004)), these properties can be captured to the detriment of compositionally. Other theories have employed more involved technical machinery like choice functions (Kratzer 1998, von Heusinger 2002), Hamblin-semantics (Kratzer & Shimoyama 2002) or independence friendly logics (Brasoveanu & Farkas 2011) to derive exceptional scope readings, but ignored donkey anaphora. Theories of E-type anaphora, on the other hand, generally do not consider exceptional scope readings (Heim 1990, Elbourne 2001). My own analysis combines insights from dynamic semantics with referential indexing in LF-semantics, resulting in a fully compositional, static system. In the first part of the talk, I will introduce the new compositional system. After that I will give a detailed comparison with DRT and Heim and Kratzer (1998) style LF semantics, show that the proposed theory has advantages over both.

Malte Zimmermann & Edgar Onea

Exhaustiveness in Clefts. An experimental approach

One of the longstanding debates concerning the semantics of clefts and focus is the question whether clefts (and focus) are exhaustive, and , if so, in what sense and to what degree? In this talk we will first sketch the state of the debate, outlining the main positions (i.e. clefts are semantically exhaustive, clefts are pragmatically exhaustive) in different spell-outs and the main arguments in favour of each. We will argue that as for now there is no clear enough empirical basis for a clarification of the situation. Therefore we suggest that an empirically and experimentally oriented approach is needed. We will outline a series of experiments which can shed light on this debate.