Semantics and Pragmatics

Meaning is studied at IEC with the goal of constructing explicit formal models that explain how sentences come to carry information about the world, and of testing the predictions of these models with linguistic and psycholinguistic means.

As in other areas of cognitive science, a major question concerns the modular decomposition of the underlying mental system: what are the basic cognitive modules whose interaction makes it possible for sentences to convey information about the world? Traditionally, three systems are distinguished: starting from the syntactic representation of a sentence, its semantic meaning is obtained by applying to it specifically linguistic rules that deliver its truth conditions; its pragmatic meaning is obtained by further reasoning on the speaker's motives for uttering one sentence rather than another. The precise division of labor between these three components is a topic of considerable interest; in fact, much contemporary research in linguistics is devoted to the interface between syntax and semantics and between semantics and pragmatics. Our group is particularly concerned with the interface between semantics and pragmatics, in particular in the analysis of implicatures, presuppositions, anaphora, and appositive constructions. 

What is rather unique at IEC is that these questions are addressed within a multidisciplinary approach that includes philosophy, logic, linguistics, and psycholinguistics.  The foundational questions we investigate are defined in constant interplay with the philosophy group at Institut Jean-Nicod; our formal models borrow tools from philosophical logic; our methodology is that of generative syntax, model-theoretic semantics and neo-Gricean pragmatics; and our theories are constructed so as to address standard linguistic data, but also experimental results from psycholinguistics that pertain to language processing in adults, language acquisition by children, language deficits in patients with brain lesions, and  brain imaging. Members of our group typically work in several of these fields simultaneously, and our overarching concern is to foster interdisciplinary collaborations within IEC.