Speaker Series: Dr. Ai Taniguchi

November 24, 2017 at 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM

Location:246 Paterson Hall
Cost:Free

“The formal pragmatics of illocutionary intensifiers: the case of verum and notification”

In this talk, I examine the semantics and pragmatics of two intensificative classes of sentences: polarity emphasis ((1), in English) and acts of notification ((2), in Japanese).

(1) It IS snowing! (English)

(2) yuki futteru -yo (Japanese)

snow falling -YO

‘(For your information) it’s snowing’

Emphasis of the positive polarity in English manifests as prosodic focus on the auxiliary (indicated in all caps in (1)), dubbed verum focus by Höhle (1992). Verum is typically analyzed as a Common Ground (CG) manipulator, indicating either that something should be in the CG (Romero & Han 2004) or should be taken out of the CG (Gutzmann & Castroviejo-Miró 2011). In this talk, I provide empirical evidence in favor of the former. Another central concern surrounding verum is whether the sense of emphasis is at-issue meaning or a conventional implicature. With novel diagnostics, I argue that the answer is neither: verum is an illocutionary modifier. One of the advantages of this approach is that it can account for the occurrence of verum focus in questions (e.g., IS it snowing?), which is something that the existing accounts face difficulty with.

Assertions marked with the sentence-final particle -yo in Japanese (as in (2)) are also sometimes called “emphatic” sentences, but their meaning is distinct from that of polarity emphasis. Unlike the unmarked -yo-less variant, -yo assertions typically indicate that the proposition at hand is a new piece of information to the addressee (Uyeno 1972; McCready 2009; Davis 2011, among others): it is an act of notification. In formal pragmatics, -yo assertions have previously been analyzed as a commitment mutualizer, meaning that they update the speaker and the addressee’s commitment set with the at-issue proposition (Davis 2011). I present empirical and theoretical counterarguments to this existing analysis, and argue that -yo is better analyzed as something that has formal connections to evidentiality. In short, my take on notification is that it is an addressee-oriented hearsay marking, which is paraphrasable as ‘you have hereby heard this from me’.

I analyze the above phenomena within the theory of dynamic semantics, which treats sentence meanings as context change potentials (Groenendijk & Stokhof 1991; Heim 1982; Kamp 1981). In particular, I use a compositional, type-driven variant of Farkas and Bruce (2010)’s Table framework, which I dub the λ-Table framework. While neither verum nor -yo manipulate the CG directly, I propose that they are illocutionary modifiers that pressure the discourse to proceed in a certain way. These classes of sentences intuitively feel “emphatic” because of their common pragmatic pattern in which the speaker dictates how the context is to be shaped, which is an exceptional property compared to more canonical speech acts like assertions and questions that require the collaboration of all discourse participants. The different ways in which this conversational pressure can manifest give us insight into what parts of the context structure illocutionary meaning is sensitive to, and what building blocks of discourse exist in natural language.


This event is sponsored by the School of Linguistics and Language Studies.