Linguistics Colloquium

Principles of Interpretation, Predictivity, and the Ineluctability of the Social

Eastern Michigan University
Fri May 26th 2023, 3:30 - 5:00pm

Abstract: In previous work, I have argued for some general principles that I claim play a crucial role in how humans interpret others’ actions.  These principles help explain how we determine what, if anything, we think an agent wishes to do—and not to do—via a given action.  And they apply not only across domains of linguistic structure and meaning (phonetic to morphosyntactic; descriptive to social), but also to linguistic and non-linguistic behavior alike.

This talk lays out some of my current thinking about these principles and how they interface with both linguistic theory and the dynamics of interpretation more broadly.  Via a handful of case studies—from sartorial displays to using the wife to refer to one’s spouse—I will show how these principles, together with linguistic theory, meaningfully constrain the range of interpretations a given form is likely to receive in context.  At the same time, while the principles help furnish a coherent set of hypotheses about a speaker’s motivation for using a given form, explaining how one gets from that set of hypotheses to a particular interpretation requires rich contextual details and rich theories of what it means to particular kinds of people to make particular kinds of moves in particular kinds of contexts.

Note: The colloquium will be followed immediately by a social in the Linguistics Courtyard.