Picture: At Arché in St. Andrews with Thony Gillies & Jason Stanley, October 2009.
I wasn't born to become a professor. The town I grew up in didn't have a high-school for girls. Girls went to a Middle School run by nuns, learned cooking and bookkeeping, and got married. The next town over did have a high school for girls, but it only had a Modern Language track. The boys' high school there had Modern Languages, too, but there also was a Science and a Classics branch. For reasons that nobody could remember any longer, the Classics track took in a few girls every year. I was one of them, and nine years of Latin and six years of Greek - six days a week - must have turned me into a linguist. I discovered modern linguistics when I tried to find a way to combine my love for the shape of languages and mathematics, and discovered the close-to-Utopian Linguistics Department in Konstanz after getting lost at the traditional University of Munich and taking a year off as an assistant teacher at the Lycée Jean Dautet in La Rochelle (France). I cobbled a graduate education together for myself via research assistantships and scholarships that took me to the University of Heidelberg and to Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand). Before coming to Amherst, I was a researcher at the Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen and taught at the Technical University in Berlin. I have also taught classes in other places around the world, including Brazil, Spain, Holland, the Czech Republic, Germany and at LSA Summer Institutes at UC Santa Cruz, Cornell University, and MIT/Harvard. In September 2005, I taught at the Fall School in Linguistics of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. The Paris lectures can be watched on video. In the Fall of 2009, I was in Paris again, as an invited professor at the École Normale Supérieure and an invited researcher at the Institut Jean Nicod. During that time, I delivered the 2009 Context and Content Lectures at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). During the current academic year, I am a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, Harvard University.
My area of specialization is formal semantics, a thriving subdiscipline of linguistics with close ties to philosophy of language, logic, and cognitive psychology. As a field, formal semantics is characterized by an unusual degree of collegiality, and by intense interdisciplinary, interdepartmental, and international cooperation. I am on the advisory boards of the Center for General Linguistics (ZAS) in Berlin and the Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation (ILLC) in Amsterdam, and on the visiting committee for the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. I am co-editing Natural Language Semantics (with Irene Heim), and am on the editorial boards of the Journal of Semantics, the Journal of Philosophical Logic, Linguistics and Philosophy, Linguistic Inquiry, and Semantics and Pragmatics.
Most links to my more recent work lead to electronic preprint versions in the Semantics Archive. Here are links to some of my early work on modals and conditionals that wasn't included in the 2012 OUP book collection: Modality (1991), Conditionals (1991), Conditional Necessity and Possibility (1979). Please consult my CV for publication details, and my Google Scholar Profile for more internet resources.
From the time I started my dissertation work in New Zealand with the help of Max Cresswell, George Hughes, John Bigelow, and David Lewis, I have been interested in context dependent semantic phenomena, in particular tense, modals and conditionals. During my Amherst time, I became also interested in the context dependency of attitude ascriptions, and certain types of wide-scope indefinites. The guiding idea behind my research on context dependency is that most lexical items are systematic pointers to particular kinds of information that they request to be provided by the utterance context. The question is what exactly the context contributes to the meaning of an expression, and what the linguistic representation of context dependency is. My dissertation Semantik der Rede (Semantics of Discourse) dates from 1978, but the questions I struggled with then are still very much alive these days, and I keep returning to them. A collection of updated and, in some cases, completely rewritten, versions of my papers on modals and conditionals has just come out with Oxford University Press, and a book relating to my 2009 Context and Content Lectures is gradually taking shape and will also be published by Oxford University Press. Since the late eighties I have been exploiting the resources of situation semantics for the semantics of counterfactuals, knowledge ascriptions, and questions. For the 2003 Milan workshop on implicatures and the 2004 Gargnano conference on Covert Variables, I applied a situation-based semantics to some tough puzzles in the area of pragmatics, the projection of conversational implicatures, and the determination of quantifier domains. During the summer of 2006, I wrote an overview of the role of situations in natural language semantics for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I share an interest in context-dependency and pragmatics with my colleagues Lyn Frazier and Tom Roeper. In 2004 and 2009, I co-taught seminars on Meaning and Intonation with Lisa Selkirk, which led to an ongoing collaboration on Focus and a paper on phases and default phrase stress.
My interest in cross-linguistic quantification started with a joint NSF grant with Emmon Bach and Barbara Partee, and has been nurtured by having Lisa Matthewson and Seth Cable as colleagues. Most of my work in this area is on indefinites. The first paper, which started circulating in the late eighties, was about the interaction of indefinites with Individual-Level/Stage-Level Predicates. In the nineties, I became interested in wide-scope indefinites. My current work on quantification is comparative and typological. In joint work with Junko Shimoyama, I explored an understudied German indefinite series from the point of view of the much better understood Japanese indeterminate pronouns, which Shimoyama had investigated in her dissertation. More recently, I pursued the hypothesis that all quantificational force for noun phrases might ultimately reside with verbal functional morphology, and the main locus of variation within the nominal domain might be reducible to a well-defined class of domain shifting operations (Indefinites and the Operators they Depend on: From Japanese to Salish).
One of the great opportunities for
me in Amherst has been the interactions with my colleagues in syntax: Roger Higgins, David
Pesetsky, Edwin Williams, Hagit Borer,
Peggy Speas, Ellen
Johnson, Rajesh Bhatt, and Lisa Green. Kyle
Johnson, Rajesh Bhatt and I have taught graduate introductions to semantics or syntax together. My ongoing research on the verbal projection spine is firmly located at the syntax-semantics interface. Originally, I was mainly interested in deriving a theory of voice alternations from slight
variations in the way a verb's external argument associates with its
head. Over the years, the project became bigger, as it was moving - step by step - towards a theory that eliminated all morphological argument structure changing operations. There is now a largish manuscript on verb semantics (The Event
Argument) that has been generating papers on telicity, adjectival passives,
resultatives, plurals, and tense. The manuscript has finally grown into something that might be considered a book, and might still be published by MIT Press one day. In the meantime, my main interest has shifted to the higher regions of the verbal projection spine and the syntax and semantics of embedded sentences. During my last sabbatical, I returned to work on pronouns that I started in 1998 (More Structural Analogies Between Pronouns and Tenses). The project was to eliminate stipulations about binding domains for pronouns, and explore how much of a pronoun's behavior can be derived from the meanings of its features and general principles for structure building and morphophonological spellout.
I love being a teacher. I wished my students, both graduates and undergraduates, knew how much I learn from them. The graduate students push me to do the research I do. They force me to go further into a topic than I would possibly manage on my own. I wished they were paid as well as I am. My undergraduates teach me what linguistics and semantics is all about: They insist on clear answers to the big questions. One of the greatest joys of my career has been to work with others on how to teach semantics. Semantics in Generative Grammar came out of lecture notes that traveled back and forth between Irene Heim's and my departments for many years. I still use this book in graduate introductions to semantics, but it remains in the background, and the courses themselves (Ling 610: Semantics and Generative Grammar) try to go beyond the book into areas that are closer to where the action is these days. I often collaborate with graduate students on teaching and developing innovative classes for the next generation. An undergraduate Introduction to Semantics and an experimental undergraduate class on the Dream of a Perfect Language came out of such a collaboration. A new General Education class on Language and Mind with Lyn Frazier and a crew of graduate students was mapped out a couple of years ago. Team work of this kind comes close to a dream of a community of scholars that I myself was part of as a young student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Konstanz, where Arnim von Stechow and Peter (Eberhard) Pause took me in as a colleague and friend, and where I first met Irene Heim, (Thomas) Ede Zimmermann, and my thesis advisor Urs Egli. Other academic teachers whose lectures and seminars left a mark on me include Peter Glotz (film and communication), Wolfgang Braunfels (history of art), Hans Rheinfelder (Dante), and Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, who was a guest professor at Konstanz for a semester.