meaning sciences club

We are a discussion group at Berkeley focused on semantics and related topics in syntax, pragmatics, logic, cognitive science, and the philosophy of language. The group is organized by Seth Yalcin (philosophy), with help from Peter Jenks (linguistics), John MacFarlane (philosophy), Line Mikkelsen (linguistics), Sophie Dandelet (philosophy) and Arc Kocurek (logic).

The group mailing list is Berkeley affiliates can subscribe through CalMail. Others can join the list by going here. For further information contact Seth Yalcin

upcoming talks

Friday, April 14, 2017:
Cian Dorr (NYU)
Conditionals, Closeness, and Probability
234 Moses Hall, 12:30pm-2pm

Abstract: The modern era in the study of conditionals begins In 1968, with the publication of Robert Stalnaker’s seminal paper ‘A Theory of Conditionals’.  In this paper—based on a book I am writing, very slowly at irregular intervals, with John Hawthorne—I will defend a theory closely modelled on Stalnaker’s: ‘If P, Q’ is true just in case either there is no accessible ‘P’-world, or the closest accessible ‘P’-world is a ‘Q’-world.  The notion of ‘accessibility’ here is taken to be highly context-dependent, and generally different for indicatives (where accessible worlds are required to be epistemically live for some relevant agent or group) and counterfactuals (where there is no such requirement, and accessibility is typically a matter of match with respect to some body of historical fact).  After briefly defending some central features of this view, I will focus on the extent to which it can capture certain plausible generalisations about the probabilities (chances or rational credences) of conditionals, such as the generalisation that if the current chance that P is positive, the current chance that if P it would be that Q is equal to the chance that P-and-Q divided by the chance that P (what is called the ‘conditional chance of Q on P’).  Drawing on the work of Bas van Fraassen, I will show how, by divorcing the notion of closeness from that of similarity and thinking of it instead on the model of a random process—as if God had picked a sequence of worlds one by one out of a hat—we can recover quite strong, though not entirely unrestricted, versions of such generalisations. 


Saturday, May 6, 2017:
Barbara Partee (University of Massachusetts at Amherst)
The Intertwining Influences of Logic, Philosophy, and Linguistics in the Development of Formal Semantics and Pragmatics
105 Northgate Hall, 11am-12:20pm

Abstract: Formal semantics and pragmatics as they have developed since the late 1960’s have been shaped by fruitful interdisciplinary collaboration among linguists, philosophers, and logicians, among others, and in turn have had noticeable effects on developments in syntax, philosophy of language, computational linguistics, and cognitive science.

In this talk I will first describe the environment in which formal semantics was born and took root. It will be natural to start around 1957, the year of the founding of the Group in Logic and Methodology of Science, since that is also the year that Richard Montague defended his dissertation at Berkeley, with Tarski as his advisor. (David Lewis, Terry Parsons, and I were all just finishing high school then.) I’ll highlight the differences in ways of thinking about natural language semantics in linguistics and in philosophy and logic; linguists and logicians were agreed, for quite different reasons, that the methods of logic were inapplicable to natural language. And then in the late 1960’s, both Montague and Lewis made radical-at-the-time proposals that challenged that long-held prejudice. I’ll focus on Montague’s contributions to the founding of formal semantics, since he came directly out of the Group whose anniversary is being celebrated, and epitomizes its interdisciplinarity with his study at Berkeley of logic, mathematics, philosophy, and Near Eastern languages.

I’ll talk about some of the pivotal contributions by logicians as formal semantics and pragmatics developed after Montague’s untimely death in 1971, and I’ll also discuss the “naturalizing” influence that linguists have had on the field as it has become more and more a branch of linguistics. Along the way I’ll describe some of the ways that that advances and debates in formal semantics and pragmatics have been connected with foundational issues in linguistic theory, philosophy, and cognitive science, some of which are still far from resolved.

[This talk is part of the Logic at Berkeley conference.]



previous talks

November 3, 2016
David Plunkett (Dartmouth)
Clinic: Metalinguistic Negotiation
234 Moses Hall, 4:30pm-6pm

Weekend March 12-13, 2016: 
Meaning Sciences Workshop 2

March 11, 2016: 
William Starr (Cornell)
Force and Conversational States
234 Moses Hall, 5pm

December 22, 2015: 
Ezra Keshet (Michigan)
Imperatives Under and Over Conjunction 
234 Moses Hall, 2:30pm-4pm

November 19, 2015: 
Jessica Rett (UCLA)
Attitude Markers and Sincerity Conditions in an Update Semantics 
3401 Dwinelle Hall, 4pm-5:30PM

April 24, 2015: 
Zoltan Gendler Szabo (Yale)
Semantic Explanations
234 Moses Hall, 4pm-5:30PM

Dec 2, 2014: 
Richard Lawrence (Berkeley)
Three Analyses of Specificational Sentences
234 Moses Hall, 2:30pm - 4pm

Oct 14, 2014:
Yael Sharvit (UCLA) 
Sequence of Tense: Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics
234 Moses Hall, 2:30pm - 4pm

Sept 30, 2104:
Melissa Fusco (Berkeley)
Deontic Disjunction
234 Moses Hall, 2:30pm - 4pm

Apr 28, 2014:
Daniel Rothschild (UCL) 
Epistemic Contradictions
1229 Dwinelle Hall, 12:30-2pm

Mar 8-9, 2014:
Conference: Metasemantics (joint with CSMN) 
Howison Library, Moses Hall

Feb 24, 2014: 
Ryan Bochnak (Berkeley) 
Degree achievements in a degree-less language
3401 Dwinelle Hall, 12:30-2pm

Dec 3, 2013:
Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford)
The Ingredients of Anankasticity
234 Moses Hall, 12:30pm - 2pm

Nov 5, 2013: 
Donka Farkas (Santa Cruz)
Assertions, Polar Questions, and the Land In Between
234 Moses Hall, 12:30pm - 2pm

Oct 1, 2013:
Chris Potts (Stanford) 
Conversational implicature: interacting with grammar
234 Moses Hall, 12:30pm - 2pm

April 8, 2013: 
Seth Yalcin (Berkeley)
Epistemic Modality De Re
234 Moses Hall, 12:30pm - 2pm

March 18, 2013: 
Ethan Nowak (Berkeley)
Non-Deictic Complex Demonstratives
234 Moses Hall, 12:30pm - 2pm


Feb 25, 2013: 
Peter Jenks (Berkeley) 
Clinic: Quantifier Raising
234 Moses Hall, 12:30pm - 2pm


Feb 11, 2013: 
Herman Cappelen (St. Andrews)
The Philosophical (in)Significance of Indexicality and the First Person
234 Moses Hall, 12:30pm - 2pm


Nov 13, 2012:
Thomas Icard (Stanford) 
Wesley Holliday (Berkeley)
Logic, Probability, and Epistemic Modality
234 Moses Hall, 12:30pm - 2pm


Oct 16, 2012: 
Line Mikkelsen (Berkeley)
Some Observations about Sameness, Identity and Comparison
234 Moses Hall, 12:30pm - 2pm


Sept 11, 2012:
Michael Rieppel (Berkeley)
Shifty Definites
234 Moses Hall, 12:30pm - 2pm