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Linguistics Colloquium Series: Elsi Kaiser - Subjectivity and generalizability: Psycholinguistic investigations of predicates of personal taste

When: Friday, December 7, 2018
3:30 PM - 5:30 PM Central

Where: Chambers Hall, 600 Foster St, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Talant Abdykairov   (847) 467-3384

Group: Linguistics Department

Category: Academic


Predicates of personal taste (PPTs, e.g. fun, tasty) are perspective-sensitive: They express an individual’s – typically the first-person speaker’s – subjective opinion about objects, events or situations. There exists a large body of work on how to represent the fact that the opinion expressed by a PPT is relativized to a particular attitude holder (initiated by Lasersohn 2005). Crucially, Moltmann (2010) and Pearson (2013) claim that, contrary to what is often assumed, PPTs go beyond a simple first-person interpretation and can be used to talk about whether something is tasty to people in general, or to an arbitrarily chosen individual. Pearson and Moltmann formalize the generalizing force of PPTs by means of a generic operator, whereas Lasersohn (2005) argues against a genericity-based approach. I will present a series of psycholinguistic experiments motivated by these disagreements about genericity with PPTs. These studies assess the presence and empirical robustness of the generalizing effect of PPTs and also compare PPTs to another class of subjective adjectives (non-PPT multidimensional adjectives, see e.g. McNally & Stojanovic 2017). The studies yield experimental evidence that (i) PPTs have a generalization effect in unembedded contexts, supporting analyses of PPTs as involving genericity, and -- perhaps surprisingly -- (ii) that PPTs are more generalizable in episodic than generic sentences. Furthermore, the results show that another class of subjective adjective (non-PPT multidimensional adjectives, e.g. healthy, intelligent) does not exhibit the episodic vs. generic contrast. I argue that this difference is predicted by a key semantic difference between predicates of personal taste and other subjective adjectives, namely that only PPTs require the attitude holder/judge to be an experiencer (see e.g. McNally & Stojanovic 2017, Bylinina 2014). If time permits, I will also discuss additional experiments we have conducted that provide experimental support for the claim that people have a preference to interpret the judge of PPTs as having the thematic role of experiencer, whereas other subjective adjectives have no such experiencer bias. As a whole, this work aims to contribute to our understanding of how perspective-sensitivity is encoded linguistically and whether subjective adjectives can be meaningfully divided into semantically distinct subclasses.

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