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Ad-hoc Kind-formation by Similarity


Dr Carla Umbach will speak at the CLASP seminar about "Ad-hoc Kind-formation by Similarity".

The talk focuses on demonstratives of manner, quality and/or degree, like German "so", Polish "tak", and English "such" (mqd demonstratives). These demonstratives modify (some or all of) verbal, nominal and degree expressions. They can be used deictically and anaphorically, and may also occur as correlatives in equative comparison constructions. The example in (1) shows German "so" used deictically.

(1) a. (speaker pointing to someone dancing): So tanzt Anna auch. 'Anna dances like this, too.' -- manner
b. (speaker pointing to a table): So einen Tisch hat Anna auch. 'Anna has such a table / a table like this, too.' -- quality
c. (speaker pointing to a person): So groß ist Anna auch. 'Anna is this tall, too.' -- degree

A semantic interpretation of mqd demonstratives will be proposed starting from the intuition that there is a deictic component and a similarity component involved ¿ in all of (1a-c), the meaning of "so" can be paraphrased by "like this". The basic idea is that mqd demonstratives generate a class of items similar to the target of the pointing gesture, e.g., in (1b) a class of tables similar to the table the speaker points at. This interpretation accounts for fact that mqd demonstratives are directly referential differing from regular demonstratives only in expressing similarity instead of identity. Moreover, it accounts for their cross-categorical distribution.

The suggested analysis is compatible with Carlson's (1980) interpretation of English "such" as a kind- referring expression. In the case of quality and of manner similarity classes will be shown to behave like kinds, although they need not be previously given but are instead ad-hoc generated. In the case of degree, however, it will be argued (contra Anderson and Morzycki 2015) that the resulting similarity class does not establish a kind. In (1c) for example, the class of persons similar in height to the one pointed at does not exhibit kind-like behavior.
The similarity interpretation of mqd demonstratives includes three major research topics:

(i) the implementation of the similarity relation, which is done with the help of multidimensional
attribute spaces
(ii) the ad-hoc generation of kinds by similarity, which is shown experimentally to be restricted to
particular features of comparison, and
(iii) the interpretation of equative comparison constructions based on similarity classes.

In the talk, the focus will be on the second topic.

Anderson, C., and M. Morzycki (2015) Degrees as kinds. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.
Carlson, G. (1980) Reference to kinds in English. New York and London: Garland.
Gust, H. & C.Umbach (2015) Making use of similarity in referential semantics. In H. Christiansen, I. Stojanovic,
G. Papadopoulos (eds.) 9th Conference on Modeling and Using Context, Context 2015, LNCS Springer. Umbach, C., & H. Gust (2014) Similarity Demonstratives. Lingua 149, 74-93.

Dr Carla Umbach
Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Berlin

Lecturer: Dr Carla Umbach

Date: 6/16/2016

Time: 3:15 PM - 5:00 PM

Categories: Linguistics, Humanities

Organizer: CLASP

Location: Seminar room, Dicksonsgatan 4, Göteborg

Contact person: Kristina Lundholm Fors


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