Current projects

Most and more: Quantity superlatives across languages
Swedish Research Council (four years, beginning 2016)

Project website

Summary: This project investigates the semantics of definite and non-definite superlatives across a typologically varied sample of languages. It departs from the observation that even closely-related languages can differ dramatically with respect to the role that definiteness plays in interpretation; for example, English the most corresponds to Swedish flest and Swedish de flesta corresponds to English most. Where French uses le plus de, Italian uses bare piu. This project aims to contextualize this variation within a larger typological perspective. The semantics of superlatives, especially quantity superlatives, is typically not covered in descriptive grammars at this level of detail, so the main work of the project will be to document the role of definiteness in the expression of maximal quantity in an appropriate selection of languages.

The overarching empirical question is how languages vary in this domain, and more particular questions include: Does definiteness have the same kinds of interpretive effects across all different strategies for forming superlatives, or is the variation we see tied to the particular way in which European languages do so? Are there languages that do not use the superlative of 'many' to express maximal quantity, and if so, how is maximal quantity expressed in those languages? What interpretive role does definiteness play in languages where definiteness is the only overt indicator of superlativity (such as French)?

The deeper question is why languages differ the way they do. The project aims to make a major contribution to the development of a common analytical framework with which the full range of variation can be accommodated. Some work has already been done to place cross-linguistic variation of this kind under a common perspective, and the project would drive this discussion forward on a much larger scale.

The project team will first develop a questionnaire and a set of non-linguistic stimuli that can be used in a fieldwork interview with a native speaker. After it is made publicly available, field linguists spending the effort to establish a relationship with communities in which languages of interest are spoken will be encouraged to use these materials, and participate in a workshop culminating in an edited volume bringing together the findings. Meanwhile, project members will apply the questionnaire to other target languages through interviews with native speakers of the target languages. Within the limits of practicality, priority will be given to endangered languages so that their patterns can be documented before it is too late.

The data we collect will also lead to an improved understanding of the primitive notions that are operative in the grammar of measurement, comparison, and quantity. Our questionnaire and stimulus kit will provide new methodological tools and techniques for investigating relative vs. absolute/proportional readings in semantic fieldwork. This will contribute to a growing discussion on methodologies in semantic fieldwork. These studies will produce a wealth of new data that will serve to contextualize familiar patterns within a much broader perspective. Given the diversity that exists in familiar languages, there is a high likelihood of discovering new patterns and new paradigms. For many endangered languages, now may be our last chance to discover their patterns.

Channels of Meaning: How information can be expressed without being said
Riksbankens Jubileumsfonds Pro Futura Scientia program VIII (five years, beginning 2014)
Arranged by Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS), Uppsala University

This project aims at developing a comprehensive taxonomy of the channels through which information may be communicated, not only directly, as in the case of entailment (e.g. Only John smokesNobody other than John smokes), but also indirectly, as in the case of presuppositions (e.g. John stopped smokingJohn has smoked in the past) and implicatures (e.g. Some of the students smokeNot all of the students smoke).

Entailments, presuppositions, and implicatures are three well-established categories of meaning channels, but it remains an active area of research what subcategories of these three there are, and what others in addition there may be (e.g. conventional implicatures). The taxonomy to be developed should be accompanied by precise definitions and easily usable and robust diagnostics, and the empirical diagnostic profile of each channel should follow as a consequence of its definition, in the context of a coherent semantic/pragmatic theory.

The plan includes the following subprojects (click to expand):

Inquisitiveness vs. At-issueness

The idea underlying this subproject is that the distinction between at-issue and non-at-issue content cross-cuts the distinction between inquisitive and non-inquisitive content, in the sense developed in inquisitive semantics. Both inquisitive presuppositions (presuppositions about the question under discussion) and inquisitive implicatures (implicatures that depend on inquisitive content) are among the phenomena of interest.

Relevant publications on inquisitive presuppositions:

Coppock, Elizabeth and David Beaver (2014). Principles of the Exclusive Muddle. Journal of Semantics 31(3): 371-432.
Coppock, Elizabeth and David Beaver (2013). Mere-ology. In Anamaria Falaus (ed.), Alternatives in Semantics, pp. 150-173. New York: Palgrave.
Coppock, Elizabeth and David Beaver (2012). Exclusive Updates! In Maria Aloni, Floris Roelofsen, Galit Weidman Sassoon, Katrin Schulz, Vadim Kimmelman and Matthijs Westera (eds.), 18th Amsterdam Colloquium, pp. 291-300. Berlin: Springer.
Velleman, Daniel, David Beaver, Emilie Destruel, Dylan Bumford, Edgar Onea and Elizabeth Coppock (2012). It-clefts are IT (Inquiry Terminating) Constructions. In Anca Chereches (ed.), Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 22, pp. 441-460. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.

Relevant publications/talks on inquisitive implicatures:

Coppock, Elizabeth (2014). Truth Judgments vs. Validity Judgments. Texas Linguistics Society (special session on "experimental advantages"), Austin, Texas, September, 2014.
Coppock, Elizabeth and Chris Kennedy (2014). What do comparative and superlative modifiers have to do with comparatives and superlatives? Two Days At Least Workshop, Utrecht University, September, 2014.
Coppock, Elizabeth and Thomas Brochhagen (2013). Raising and Resolving Issues with Scalar Modifiers. Semantics and Pragmatics 6(3): 1-57.
Coppock, Elizabeth and Thomas Brochhagen (2013). Diagnosing truth, interactive sincerity, and depictive sincerity. In Todd Snider (ed.), Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 23, p. 358-375. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.

Definiteness and determinacy

This subproject explores the distinction between definiteness and determinacy as it applies to diverse types of nominal description (definite, indefinite, possessive), diverse systems of definiteness marking, and special kinds of adjectives including exclusives and superlatives. Relevant publications:

Coppock, Elizabeth and David Beaver (under revision). Definiteness and Determinacy. Linguistics and Philosophy.
Coppock, Elizabeth and Elisabet Engdahl (under review). Quasi-Definites in Swedish: Elative Superlatives and Emphatic Assertion. Submitted to Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.
Coppock, Elizabeth and David Beaver (2014). A Superlative Argument for a Minimal Theory of Definiteness. In Todd Snider (ed.), Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 24, pp. 177-196. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.
Coppock, Elizabeth and David Beaver (2012). Weak Uniqueness: The only difference between definites and indefinites. In Anca Chereches (ed.), Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 22, pp. 527-544. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.
Coppock, Elizabeth and David Beaver (2012). Exclusivity, Uniqueness, and Definiteness. In Christopher Piñón (ed.), Empirical Issues in Syntax and Semantics 9, pp. 59-66.

Opinions and politeness

This project concerns predicates of personal taste like tasty and related phenomena such as moral sentences, their use with the Swedish subjective attitude verb tycka 'think', used only for statements of opinion, and their role in discourse. These ideas are developed in this handout from a talk given in the Uppsala Higher Seminar in Philosophy in October 2014.

Conventional implicatures and usage conditions

This project aims to sort out the various types of content that Potts classified or might classify under the heading of "conventional implicature". One key distinction to be explored is the distinction between ordinary presuppositions and indexical presuppositions. The hypothesis to be explored here is that usage conditions can be seen as domain conditions on characters. The phenomena that would potentially be amenable to this kind of analysis include words like Goodbye, greetings and other types of speech acts, evidentials such as Swedish ska (as in Det ska regna i morgon "It is supposed to rain tomorrow"), the gender feature associated with personal pronouns like he, and a number of other phenomena related to speaker and hearer perspective such as de se effects with first and second person pronouns.


Previous projects

Pathways from Pronoun to Agreement
Swedish Research Council Postdoctoral Grant (two years, beginning 2010)
Host institution: Lund University

This project concerned the relationship between personal pronouns and agreement markers, and the features of referentiality, definiteness, person, number and gender.

Relevant publications:

Coppock, Elizabeth (2013). A Semantic Solution to the Problem of Hungarian Object Agreement. Natural Language Semantics 21(4): 345-371.
Coppock, Elizabeth, Hyun-Jong Hahm and Stephen Wechsler (2013). Turkic Plurals and Feature Bundling. In Ümut Özge (ed.), Proceedings of the 8th Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics, pp. 53-64. Cambridge, MA: MIT Working Papers in Linguistics.
Coppock, Elizabeth (2013). Agreement between Scylla and Charybdis. In Philip Hofmeister and Elisabeth Norcliffe (eds.), The Core and the Periphery: Data-Driven Perspective on Syntax Inspired by Ivan A. Sag. Stanford: CSLI Publications, pp. 65-70.
Coppock, Elizabeth and Stephen Wechsler (2012). The objective conjugation in Hungarian: Agreement without phi features. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 30(3): 699-740.
Coppock, Elizabeth and Stephen Wechsler (2010). Less-Travelled Paths From Pronoun to Agreement: The Case of the Uralic Objective Conjugations. In Miriam Butt and Tracy King (eds.), The Proceedings of the LFG '10 Conference, pp. 165-185. Stanford: CSLI Publications.