Research

CatturaIn my work, I combine the study of the formal properties of human language(s) and the study of what humans do with language in everyday life. In particular, I am interested  in exploring how our distinctive ability to assemble sentences and assign them meaning inform the practices whereby we use language to exchange information, build common ground and negotiate social relationships. I have been pursuing this goal by focusing on the following projects.

INTENSIFICATION BETWEEN SEMANTIC AND SOCIAL MEANING –  Words have two types of meaning: a semantic meaning, which allows us to describe facts about the world; and a social meaning, which conveys information about us – e.g., our age, our gender, our orientation towards other speakers and social groups. In my work  I explore the relationship between these two types of meaning, focusing on how they conspire to determine the content communicated by expressions like intensifiers and discourse particles – e.g. totally, like,  Italian -issimo.

Output:

 

SUBJECTIVE MEANING AND ILLOCUTION – Linguists and philosophers have long debated on the semantic representations underlying subjective predicates — e.g.,  “Rollercoasters are fun”, “The soup is tasty” — versus factual, objective ones — e.g., “Paris is in France”, “The movie started at 8 am”.  Little is known, however, on how the difference between objective and subjective predicates  affects the illocutionary properties of the assertions that contain these expressions. In a currently ongoing project, I rely on online experiments to investigate the empirical differences between these two kinds of assertions, suggesting that they indeed present distinct illocutionary properties.  

Output:

  • Subjective assertions are weak: an Experimental Study on Perspective-Dependent meaning. Talk to be presented at XPRAG 7. Abstract
  • The Illocutionary Force of Subjective Predicates: an Experimental Study. Poster presented at WCCFL 35.

RESUMPTION AND SENTENCE PROCESSING – I am also interested in the relationship between grammar and cognition, and in particular in how certain syntactic structures can help us comprehend the meaning of sentences. Resumptive pronouns such as “This is the that the cop arrested HIM” are a good test case. On the one hand, they are ungrammatical in English and many other languages. On the other hand, speakers consistently use them in speech. I have carried out an experimental study to better understand how these expressions help us interpret the meaning of complex sentences.

Output:

 

SEMANTIC CHANGE – Meanings, while seemingly fixed, are constantly changing. I am particularly interested in understanding how the structural and formal properties of words’ content at a given stage can help us make sense of the shifts that these words undergo in time. I have explored this issue by looking at different expressions.

Output:

 

SCALAR IMPLICATURES – To what extent are we lying if we call an excellent student “a decent student”? To what extent is it just a harmless understatement? The relationship between the conventional meaning of words and how we interpret them in communication is one of the most challenging areas of research for linguists. I have carried out an experimental study to better understand how we interpret the meaning of these adjectives.

Output:

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