Research

CatturaIn my work, I combine the study of the formal properties of the meaning of words and morphemes with the study of what humans do when using these expressions n everyday life — that is, the practices whereby we exchange information, build common ground and negotiate social relationships. I have been pursuing this goal by focusing on the a variety of phenomena, including: intensifiers; subjective predicates; discourse particles and likealternative questions. I have additional interests in syntactic and semantic processing, and in semantic change

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.

  • Totally between discourse and subjectivity. Exploring the pragmatic side of intensification. In press for Journal of Semantics, Paper
  • Totally young sounds totally younger: intensification at the socio-semantics interface. Journal of Sociolinguistics. (with Laura Staum Casasanto). Paper
  • Intensification, gradability and social perception. Accepted in “The semantics of gradability, vagueness, and scale structure: Experimental perspectives”, Springer series, edited by Castroviejo, McNally and Sassoon. Paper.
  • 2016. Exploring metalinguistic intensification. The case of Extreme Degree Modifiers. Proceedings of NELS 46. Paper.
  • 2015. Intensification without degrees cross-linguistically. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 33(3). 843-879 (with Ryan Bochnak). Link to pre-final draft.

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”. In this, I rely on online experiments to investigate how these two kinds of assertions differentially shape the procedure whereby we update the Common Ground of a conversation

  • 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.

LIKE, HEDGING, AND MIRATIVITY — For a given lexical item, a basic semantic core in the logical form can give rise to (seemingly very) different pragmatic functions. As a case study, I focus on like in English, with an emphasis on two functions: its hedging use, as in “The shoes were like $20.”; and its mirative use, as in “Never thought it would happen, but Bob is like…rich now!”. Together with my co-author Emily Hanink, I argue that both contributions can be traced back to like’s core semantics as an operator widening a pragmatically restricted set, proposing a unified semantics to capture both effects.

  • Marking imprecision, expressing surprise. Like between hedging and mirativity. (with Emily Hanink). Resubmitted to Journal of Linguistics. Draft.
  • “Like”, hedging and mirativity. A unified account.  Colloque de Syntaxe and Semantique a Paris (CSSP). Handout.


ALTERNATIVE QUESTIONS AND INTERACTION — While encoding similar logical content, the following questions are pragmatically different.

(1) Is the puppy male?   (2) Is the puppy male or not?     (3) Is the puppy male or female?   

Combining controlled acceptability studies and formal analysis,  I seek to explore the mapping between the morpho-syntactic elements that differentiate these questions and the way in which such questions constrain discourse. We are especially interested in modeling the pragmatic differences between these questions in terms of the general principles that govern the interpretation of meaning across constructions (e.g., division of pragmatic labor, focus, information structure.)

Output:

  • Decomposing cornering effects in alternative questions: An Experimental Investigation (with Erlinde Meertens and Maribel Romero). Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 22.  Abstract. Slides. (Paper forthcoming)
  • Alternative Questions, Markedness and Illocutionary Properties: an Experimental Study (with Erlinde Meertens and Maribel Romero). Proceedings of the 53rd Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society. Abstract. Slides (Paper forthcoming) 

SENTENCE PROCESSING – I am also interested in the relationship between grammar and cognition, and in particular in how certain syntactic and semantic structures can help us comprehend the meaning of sentences. In one project I focus on 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.

  • 2016. Unacceptable but comprehensible: the facilitation effects of resumptive pronouns.Glossa: a journal of general linguistics, 1(1), 29. Glossa (with Ming Xiang) Paper

In another project I focus on the relationship between the conventional meaning of words and how we interpret them in communication, with an emphasis on the computation of scalar implicatures. I have carried out an experimental study to better understand how we interpret the meaning of these adjectives.

  • 2013. Is excellent better than good? Adjective scales and scalar implicatures.  Sinn und Bedeutung 17 (with Ming Xiang). Paper.


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.

  • 2015. From Totally Dark to Totally Old. The Formal Semantics of Subjectification. Sinn und Bedeutung 19 Paper
  • 2015. Great pizzas, ghost negations: The emergence and persistence of mixed expressives. Sinn und Bedeutung 19 (with Jackson Lee). Paper
  • 2014. Scalar meaning in diachrony: The suffix -issimo from Latin to Italian. NELS 44. Paper.
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