Paul M. Pietroski

June 23, 2014

In the talk, I will discuss a series of studies that illustrate how experimental methods can help adjudicate between provably equivalent but procedurally distinct specifications of the semantic properties of quantificational/comparative expressions like 'most' and 'more'. For example, while semanticists often paraphrase (1) with (2) or the formalization (2a),

  • (1) Most of the dots are blue.
  • (2) The number of blue dots exceeds the number of non-blue dots.
  • (2a) #{x: x is a blue dot} > #{x: x is a non-blue dot} there is evidence that (3/3a) better represents how speakers of English understand (1).
  • (3) The number of blue dots exceeds the number of dots minus the number of blue dots.
  • (3a) #{x: x is a blue dot} > [#{x: x is a dot} – #{x: x is blue dot}]

I will also argue that an independently motivated emphasis on procedural/algorithmic description in semantics—as opposed to focusing on description-neutral truth conditions, which can be represented in various formats—coheres with observations that logically equivalent sentences, involving 'most' and 'more', can trigger different "framing effects" in a roughly Kahneman/Tversky sense. In short, linguistic meanings exhibit specific representational formats that are experimentally detectable.

We recorded this talk. Watch it here.

Presented in collaboration with the Department of Philosophy, SFU and Department of Linguistics, SFU

Paul Pietroski (PhD, MIT) is Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Department of Linguistics, University of Maryland. His main research interests lie at the intersection of these fields. Recently, his work has focused on how grammatical structure is related to logical form, how meaning is related to truth, and how human concepts are related to linguistic understanding. He is author of Events and Semantic Architecture (2005), and also, Causing Actions (2002), both Oxford University Press.