Third Workshop on Optimality Theory and Interpretation


University of Groningen, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen. Room A3 (morning sessions) and room A8 (afternoon sessions).


Friday November 7, 2008


This workshop is part of the NWO funded project The interplay between the speaker's and the hearer's perspective. This project is a joint collaboration between the Radboud University Nijmegen, Utrecht University, the University of Groningen, the University of Amsterdam, and the Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS) in Berlin.

The Third Workshop on Optimality Theory and Interpretation is organized by the NWO/Vici project "Asymmetries in Grammar" at the University of Groningen (contact: P.Hendriks(at)


9:40 - 10:15 am:     Jacques Jayez (Lyon): From discourse architecture to discourse constraints.
                              UPDATE: For health reasons Jacques had to cancel his talk, but here are the slides of his talk.
10:15 - 10:50 am:   Tamás Bíró (University of Groningen): OTpimality? Interpreting performance errors in SA-OT.

10:50 - 11:10 am:   Coffee break

11:10 - 11:45 am:   Dorota Klimek-Jankowska (Wroclaw University): Variation and ambiguity in the expression and interpretation of aspect in Polish habituals. A bi-directional OT account.
11.45 - 12.20 am:   Henk Zeevat (University of Amsterdam): A new argument for understanding by simulation.

12:20 - 2:15 pm:     Lunch

2:15 - 2:50 pm:       Henriëtte de Swart (Utrecht University) & Donka Farkas (University of California, Santa Cruz): The semantics and pragmatics of the plural.
2:50 - 3:25 pm:       Anton Benz (ZAS Berlin): Ambiguities in relevance implicatures.
3:25 - 4:00 pm:       Sander Lestrade, Kees de Schepper, Steven Westelaken & Helen de Hoop (Radboud University Nijmegen): Preposition stranding everywhere: an optimality theoretic account.

4:00 - 4:20 pm:       Tea break

4:20 - 4:55 pm:       Reinhard Blutner (University of Amsterdam): Comprehension/production asymmetries: Against motor theories of perception.
4:55 - 5:30 pm:       Kjell Johan Sæbø & Atle Grønn (University of Oslo ): Grounding anti-presuppositions by strong BiOT.

5:30 pm:                 Drinks + Dinner


Jacques Jayez (Lyon): From discourse architecture to discourse constraints.
In this talk, I examine the status of two general discourse constraints which have been proposed in the literature on discourse relations.
The first one is the Right Frontier Constraint (RFC), originally described in Polanyi (1985) and subsequently popularized in SDRT (Asher and Lascarides 1979, 2003, Asher 1993). The RFC states that, given a sequence of discourse constituents (typically, sentences), the last constituent cannot be attached to a target anterior to the penultimate constituent unless the target subordinates the penultimate constituent. I show that it is possible to analyze the RFC as the result of a general tendency to align discourse connection and activation, a constituent being preferably attached to an activated constituent or proposition. This accounts for the fact that the RFC is violable (it concerns the economy of communication and interpretation, not the "structure" of discourse) and for the asymmetry between coordination and subordination relations, which correspond to different activation patterns.
The second constraint has been proposed by Ducrot in his 1972 book under the name "Loi d'enchainement" (Linking Law, LL). The LL says that it is in general impossible to attach a discourse constituent to a presupposition of a previous constituent in monologues. First, I show that the LL extends to conventional implicatures (Grice 1974, Potts 2005), a fact which precludes an epistemic truth-conditional analysis a-la Merin (2003). I propose instead that the LL is a reflex of two more general facts:
(i) presuppositions and implicatures are not part of the "main content", that is, what corresponds to the proposition involved in the speech act "point" (or goal) in Searle's terms,
(ii) the speech act point is preferably not ignored in discourse attachments.
This predicts that, (i) whenever a presupposition or implicature cannot be used in the same attachment as the main content, it is "invisible" to attachments and (ii) there is an asymmetry between monologues and dialogues since the communicative intentions of different agents need not be the same or even mutually consistent. Again, under the proposed perspective, the LL is not a "law" but the result of interacting constraints.

Tamás Bíró (University of Amsterdam): OTpimality? Interpreting performance errors in SA-OT.
The talk first summarizes the approach to the competence-performance dichotomy and performance errors, advocated by both Smolensky and co. in the Harmonic Mind and by myself in my dissertation. Then, I will describe how interpretation can be tackled in the framework of SA-OT (the algorithm introduced in my dissertation): the observed form must be a local optimum, and most probably is also a global optimum for the constraint hierarchy (hopefully) shared by the speaker and the hearer. The talk will thereby present the first steps towards the research carried out in my Veni project (to be soon started), and which I will also tell a few words, if time permits.

Henk Zeevat (University of Amsterdam): A new argument for understanding by simulation.
It is shown that using production optimality theory in understanding to simulate the utterance gives the theoretically best solution to understanding, given general explanation abilities. The argument is based on Bayes' formula. The resulting notion of understanding moreover allows the interpretation of incorrect utterances and thereby straightforwardly account for the performance gap between production and understanding. Since this is the optimal solution to understanding and the needed components are realised by the brain, it follows by evolution that this solution must be adapted by the brain, if this were possible at all. The mirror neuron research seems to indicate that it will be hard to argue for that impossibility.

Kjell Johan Sæbø & Atle Grønn (University of Oslo ): Grounding anti-presuppositions by strong BiOT: the case of indefinite descriptions
There has been a recent surge of interest in so-called antipresuppositions (Percus, Sauerland, Amsili and Beyssade, etc.), i.e. discourse constraints stemming from the absence of possible presupposition triggers, and there is a loose consensus that although a Quantity implicature argument fails, the phenomenon should be accounted for pragmatically, appealing to competition. Strong BiOT in terms of content/form probability, which has proven successful in a number of cases of competition at the level of content proper, appears a promising framework for treating competition at the level of presupposition as well. We explore this mode of explanation as applied to the much-cited case discussed by Heim (1991), concerning the relationship between the indefinite and the definite article (in the singular). Whereas the definite article triggers a presupposition of familiarity, the indefinite article, while basically neutral in meaning, tends to receive an interpretation of novelty. We argue that in order to obtain a clear picture of the facts and to arrive at the correct predictions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully between what is presupposed and what is expressed, employing optimisation at both levels successively, and to insist on a ceteris paribus condition for competition, suppressing the antipresupposition when there is a clear difference in what is expressed, or (regarding the markedly more complex competitor "another"), how it is expressed. In sum, however, the interplay between these factors militates in favour of a competition-based, strong BiOT account.

Other workshops on Optimality Theory and interpretation:

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