Logic and Conversation: Fall 2013

Amsterdam Master of Logic, University of Amsterdam

The theme of the course is the interplay between semantics and pragmatics in the interpretation of natural language discourse, and the role of logic in formulating semantic and pragmatic theories. Traditionally, logic is concerned with the characterization of valid reasoning and argumentation, and focusses on capturing the informative content of sentences, as determined by the interpretational conventions pertaining to the language that the sentences are part of. However, when analyzing the use and interpretation of sentences in conversation (rather than reasoning/argumentation), other aspects of meaning become of interest as well. The course focusses on three such aspects, which play a central role in current research in semantics and pragmatics. Each of these is discussed in a block consisting of 4-5 lectures.

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First, we examine the notions of conversational implicature and exhaustive interpretation, which are concerned with information that can be conveyed by speakers in uttering a sentence above and beyond the informative content of the sentence as determined by the relevant linguistic conventions. For instance, if I say that I saw some of Hitchcock’s movies, I typically imply that I didn’t see all of them, although this does not follow from the linguistic conventions concerning the string of words that I uttered.

Second, we examine the notion of presuppositions, which is not concerned with the information that is provided in uttering a sentence, but rather with the information that is assumed to be common knowledge among the conversational participants in order for the utterance to be felicitous to begin with. For instance, if I say that I will bring my son to the picknick, I act as if I take it to be common knowledge that I have a son.

Finally, we examine the framework of inquisitive semantics, where sentence meanings do not only capture informative content but also inquisitive content. This logical framework is particularly useful for the analysis of conversation because, evidently, sentences are not only used in conversations to provide information, but just as much to request information from other participants.

Assignments and grading

  • There will be 3 homework assignments, each will make up 30% of the grade.
  • Students are required to email a question or comment about the reading for each class to the instructors at least 18 hours before the class takes place. Fulfilling this requirement makes up the remaining 10% of the grade. Please direct your email to Floris Roelofsen, Ivano Ciardelli, Jeroen Groenendijk, and Matthijs Westera, and start the subject with [LC2013-X], where X is the number of the class. Please formulate your question or comment clearly and concisely.


Block 1: Implicatures and exhaustivity

Please fill out and return the following questionnaire by email before the second class.

28/10 Room G3.13 Logic and conversation (Grice 1975), see also Chapter 6 of Gamut
31/10 Room F1.02 Exhaustive interpretation of answers to questions I (G&S 1984, Chapter V, Sec. 0, G&S 1991, Sec. 1.2)
Here is a two-page summary of two-sorted type theory which may help to understand G&S's theory.
4/11 Room D.110 Exhaustive interpretation of answers to questions II (G&S 1984, Chapter V, Sec. 5, G&S 1991, Sec. 3.1-3.2)
7/11 Room B0.208 Exhaustive interpretation of complex sentences (vR&S 2004), see also vRS 2006, Spector 2007, CFS 2011 (handout)
11/11 Room A1.10 Exhaustivity implicatures and attentive content (Westera 2013), see also Westera 2013b and Roelofsen 2011

Assignment 1, posted online 8/11, due 18/11

Block 2: Presuppositions

14/11 Room B0.207 Pragmatic presuppositions (Stalnaker 1974) (handout)
18/11 Room A1.10 On the projection problem for presuppositions (Heim 1983) (handout) (see also Karttunen 1974)
21/11 Room B0.207 Presuppositions and local contexts (Schlenker 2010) (handout)
25/11 Room D1.110 Explaining presupposition projection with dynamic semantics (Rothschild 2011, Sections 1-6) (handout)

Assignment 2, posted online 21/11, due 4/12


There will be a Q&A session with Philippe Schlenker on 29/11 from 14:00 -- 15:45 in the ILLC Seminar Room. Philippe Schlenker is Director of the LINGUAE research group in Paris and a Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. He has made essential contributions to many areas in semantics and pragmatics, and he is a very inspiring person to talk to. Everyone is strongly encouraged to attend the Q&A session. Afterwards, at 16:00, Philippe will give a DIP Colloquium talk, also in the ILLC Seminar Room, followed by some food and drinks in the common room.

Recommended reading: The semantics/pragmatics interface (Schlenker, to appear in the Handbook of Semantics, edited by Aloni & Dekker)

Block 3: Inquisitive semantics

28/11 Room B0.207 The logic of interrogation (Groenendijk 1999) (slides), see also Ten Cate & Shan, 2007
2/12 Room D1.110 Inquisitive semantics: a new notion of meaning (Ciardelli, Groenendijk, Roelofsen 2013)
5/12 Room B0.207 Inquisitive algebra (Ciardelli, Groenendijk, Roelofsen 2012), section 3 (scanned notes)
9/12 Room B0.203 Inquisitive semantics (Ciardelli, Groenendijk, Roelofsen 2012), section 4
12/12 Room B0.0207 Semantics and discourse effects of polar initiatives (Farkas & Roelofsen 2012), sections 1, 2, 6 (handout)

Assignment 3, posted online 9/12, due 20/12


In the week of 16-20 December there will be three conferences / workshops in Amsterdam very much related to the contents of the course. Everyone is encouraged to attend some talks at these events. Please see the following websites for more details: