Current Topics in the Semantics and Pragmatics of Plural Expressions

Language and Logic Courses

Introductory Course

Current Topics in the Semantics and Pragmatics of Plural Expressions,
Benjamin Spector (Institut Jean Nicod, France)

What is the meaning of plural expressions in natural languages: “the students”, “some apples”, etc? While the answer to such questions seems pretty straightforward at first sight, appearances are deceptive. It turns out that providing a unified and empirically adequate theory of the meaning of plural expressions in various syntactic environments is surprisingly difficult.

The goal of this class is to introduce students to one major approach to plural semantics, based on the idea that plural expressions denote or quantify over so-called “plural individuals”, and to present some recent research within this framework that aims to address puzzles pertaining to the interpretation of numerals and plural definites. The discussion will contain the presentation of formal models, a detailed investigation of their predictions, as well as data coming from experimental semantics. We will cover topics such as:

  • the various types of readings that plural expressions can trigger depending on the type of predicate they combine with (collective readings, distributive readings, cumulative)
  • the complex semantic and pragmatic behavior of numerals (“three birds”) and modified numerals (“more than three birds”), within the mereological approach to plural semantics
  • the semantic underdetermination of plural definites, and its consequences for plural quantification.