ESSLLI 2017 – The semantics and pragmatics of intensification

The semantics and pragmatics of intensification: Logic, discourse and social meaning


Andrea Beltrama and Yaron McNabb

Days and times

Monday through Friday, Second week of ESSLLI (24-28 July, 2017)

Course Description

Whereas early work in formal semantics focused on aspects of meaning that avail themselves to logical analysis, the past couple of decades have seen formal endeavours to reconcile logical, context-dependent, and social components of meaning. The resulting theoretical tools and empirical methods enable us to tackle complex and challenging phenomena such as expressivity, vagueness, scalarity, subjectivity, and the managing of truth-conditional and non-truth-conditional information in discourse. In this course, we will focus on intensifiers like very, really and totally, as a case study for a group of linguistic expressions whose semantic and pragmatic contribution seems to bear on all of the aforementioned challenging phenomena. While the focus is on this specific set of expressions, the goal of this course is to provide students with a diverse set of empirical methodologies and analytical tools which can then be applied to other linguistic phenomena that encapsulate different dimensions of meaning.

Day-to-day Program

Day 1

Introduction to intensification; compositional semantics for degree modification (degree and non-degree approached).

Day 1 Lecture notes

Recommended reading: Lasersohn 1999, Kennedy & McNally 2005, Morzycki 2006, Alxatib & Pelletier 2011, McNabb 2012a, McNabb 2012b, Morzycki 2013. See More bibliography in the lecture notes.

Day 2

Cross-categorial modification; intensification as slack regulation (precisification) or as quantification over contexts of evaluation; issues with a unified analysis of intensification.

Day 2 Lecture notes

Recommended reading: McNabb 2012c, Anderson 2013, Beltrama & Bochnak 2015, Berltrama (ta). See More bibliography in the lecture notes.

Day 3

Epistemic and expressive aspects of intensification; modelling the conversational moves associated with various intensifiers.

Day 3 Lecture notes

Recommended reading: Farkas & Bruce 2009. See More bibliography in the lecture notes.

Day 4

Paradoxical intensifiers like just and simply. These intensifiers don’t seem to contribute to the content of the predicate they modify, seem to parallel exclusives, and typically modify extreme predicates (like huge). In addition, Mia Wiegand gave a guest lecture on her analysis of just.

Day 4 Lecture notes | Mia Wiegand’s slides

Recommended reading: Morzycki 2010, Wiegand 2017

Day 5

Do intensifiers encode social meaning, what are the properties of this social meaning and how does it interact with the semantic and pragmatic content?

Day 5 Lecture notes | Day5 Concluding Slides

Recommended reading:  Eckert 2012, Acton & Potts 2014,Irwin 2014, Beltrama & Staum Casasanto 2017, Arnold Zwicky’s blog post on Gen X so.