Intonation and pragmatics

A workshop on the occasion of the PhD defense of Matthijs Westera


March 23rd, 15:00-17:30
ILLC seminar room F1.15


15:00 Craige Roberts (OSU/NYU): Coherence, Salience and Anaphora

Coherence has been shown (Asher & Lascarides 2003, Kehler 2002) to be an important constraint on the plausibility required for anaphora resolution. But I will argue that coherence relations and the structure they give rise to over discourse come to bear on salience as well. Intuitively, the antecedent to an anaphoric trigger in utterance u is most likely to be found in those parts of preceding discourse to which u coheres most closely. But unlike other prominent accounts
of discourse coherence, I take the central constraint on coherence to be defined in terms of the intentional structure of discourse, a hierarchical structure established by the evident joint goals, plans and intentions of the interlocutors, including the understood question(s) under discussion (QUD) and the strategies that subserve those goals and questions; and I argue that the intentional structure can capture all the ways in which other kinds of coherence relations and discourse structures bear on anaphora. The constraint is a version of the Right Frontier constraint of Polanyi (1985):
The maximally salient entities in a given discourse context are those that are (a) logically accessible along the Right Frontier of the intentional structure of that discourse (following from a requirement of Weak Familiarity) and (b) pertain to the most immediate goal along that frontier. Entities pertaining to other superordinate goals along the frontier are still salient, but somewhat less so. The proposal, then, is closely related to Westera’s (2017) argument that the intentional structure of a discourse tightly constrains its attentional structure.


15:45 Jörg Peters (Oldenburg): Non-orthogonality as an issue for intonational semantics

Intonational semantics typically starts with a phonological description of the inventory of tonal units of a given language and a set of rules for combining these units. Assumptions about tonal contrasts that hold between tonal units often remain implicit since they appear to be obvious. Phonologists might find out that a given language uses H% and L% at the end of an intonational phrase, and semanticists will consider it their task to clarify the semantic effect of choosing a high or a low tone at the phrase boundary. However, the semantic analysis may become less straightforward when we
deal with intonation systems that lack orthogonality in the sense that they do not allow for all possible combinations of tonal units. This issue will be illustrated by the case of trailing tones and final boundary tones in standard and non-standard varieties of German. Finally, the relevance of these findings to current accounts of Dutch and English intonation will be discussed.

16:30 Michael Wagner (McGill): Marking focus and givenness prosodically: Some observations about who, when, and how, but not on why

One can approach intonational phenomena from a pragmatic point of view and ask why a certain prosodic tool is used to achieve a certain effect. Several rationales have been offered, for example, for why constituents encoding new information should be prominent and constituents encoding old information should be reduced. In this talk I will present a few empirical points that help understand the generalizations that a theory that tries to rationalize such effects will have to account for.