Linguistics and English Language

Linguistic Circle

Speaker: Wataru Uegaki (University of Edinburgh)

Title: Question-oriented semantics of clausal complementation and constraints on lexical denotations

Abstract: “Responsive” predicates, i.e., predicates that can embed both declarative and interrogative complements (e.g., “know”, “predict”, “be surprised“), presents a puzzle for the compositional semantics of clausal complementation. This is so because these predicates seem to be able to combine with two distinct types of semantic objects: propositions and questions. In the first half of the talk, I will discuss a solution to this puzzle based on the question-oriented semantics of complementation (Uegaki 2015; Elliott, Klinedinst, Sudo & Uegaki 2017; Uegaki 2019; Uegaki & Sudo 2019; cf. Inquisitive Semantics, Ciardelli et al. 2013; 2019). According to this semantics, clause-embedding predicates in general, including responsive predicates, select for questions, while declarative complements are analyzed as a trivial form of question. The proposal is motivated by two further empirical arguments: (a) the question-oriented semantics, but no other existing theory, adequately accounts for the behavior of English Predicates of Relevance (e.g., “care”, “matter”, “be relevant”; Elliott et al. 2017), the Japanese sentence final particles “daroo” and “yo" (Uegaki & Roelofsen 2018; Uegaki 2019b), and the Estonian predicate “mõtlema” (Roberts 2018); (b) the question-oriented semantics leads to semantic explanations of the selectional restrictions of predicates such as “believe” and “inquire”, which are compatible only with one type of clausal complements (“Alex believes that/*whether it is raining“; “Alex inquired *that/whether it was raining”) (Uegaki 2015; Ciardelli & Roelofsen 2015).

In the second half of the talk, I will discuss how the question-oriented semantics paves a way for new investigations into constrains on lexical denotations. Although the theory in principle allows an infinite array of meanings for clause-embedding predicates, natural languages seem to lexicalize only a small subset of such theoretically possible meanings. I discuss potential semantic constraints on the lexical denotation of clause-embedding predicates, and introduce ongoing cross-linguistic research projects that attempt to evaluate the empirical status of such potential constraints.

Contact details

Ivo Youmerski

Oct 31 2019 -

Linguistic Circle

2019-10-31: Question-oriented semantics of clausal complementation and constraints on lexical denotations

G.01 (Davidson Lecture Theatre), Lister Learning and Teaching Centre, 5 Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9SU