Dynamic inquisitive semantics: Summer 2021

Utrecht (virtual) European Summer School for Logic, Language, and Information (ESSLLI)

This course brings together two important strands in the formal analysis of natural language meaning: dynamic semantics and inquisitive semantics. It develops an integrated logical framework, dynamic inquisitive semantics, and demonstrates how this framework can be used to analyze various dynamic aspects of the meaning of questions in discourse.

Specific topics include anaphora within and across questions, intervention effects in questions analyzed as failed dynamic binding, multiple wh-questions, the semantics of Q particles as dynamic identification operators, dynamic quantification and the derivation of pair-list readings in questions with quantifiers, and connections between weak/strong donkey anaphora and exhaustive/non-exhaustive question readings. We will see that the analysis of these phenomena in the proposed framework goes beyond the current state of the art.

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It is assumed that students are familiar with dynamic semantics, though not necessarily with dynamic approaches to questions. It is helpful to be familiar with compositional dynamic systems, in particular, Muskens (1996), but we will go through the most important concepts in this area. Similarly, familiarity with static inquisitive semantics is helpful, even though here as well, we will try to cover the most important concepts during the course.

Useful material and background reading

Introduction to inquisitive semantics

  • Ivano Ciardelli, Jeroen Groenendijk, and Floris Roelofsen. Inquisitive semantics. Oxford University Press, 2019. Available here.

Compositional dynamic semantics

Dynamic semantics of questions, non-inquisitive

  • Groenendijk, J. (1998). Questions in update semantics. In J. Hulstijn and A. Nijholt, editors, Formal semantics and pragmatics of dialogue (Twendial ’98), pages 125–137.
  • Haida, A. (2007). The Indefiniteness and focusing of wh-words. Ph.D. thesis, Humboldt University, Berlin.
  • van Rooij, R. (1998). Modal subordination in questions. In Proceedings of Twendial, pages 237–248.

Dynamic inquisitive semantics


Day Topic Content
1 Motivation and background
  • Motivation and core ideas.
  • Overview of relevant concepts from inquisitive semantics and dynamic semantics.
  • Discussion of some of the empirical phenomena that motivate dynamic inquisitive semantics: anaphora with wh-antecedents, intervention effects, dependent anaphora with multiple wh-questions, strong and weak readings, effects of number morphology.
2 A first-order system
  • Dynamic inquisitive semantics for a first-order language, based on Dotlačil and Roelofsen (2019).
  • Preliminary account of some of the motivating phenomena: anaphora and intervention effects.
  • Limitations of the first-order system.
3 Compositionality and plurality
  • A fully compositional dynamic inquisitive semantics framework with plurality (InqD)
4 Multiple wh-questions, weak and strong readings
  • Multiple wh readings in dynamic inquisitive semantics, based on Dotlačil and Roelofsen (2021).
  • Weak/strong readings of indefinites and the max operator.
  • Account for Schwarz’s puzzles involving modals and disjunction.
5 Quantifiers
  • An InqD treatment of various types of quantifiers (universal distributive, counting, group-denoting) and their interaction with inquisitiveness, distributive and collective predicates.
  • Pair-list readings with distributive quantifiers.
  • Weak/strong readings for donkey anaphora, which require both max and distributivity.
  • Donkey anaphora in conditional questions.