Optimality Theory and Pragmatics

June 8-10

  ZAS Berlin, Jägerstrasse 10/11, Room 007

ZAS Berlin: click here for a map

Gästehaus of the Humboldt University (Ziegelstrasse 12): click here for a map

Organizers: Anatoli Strigin (ZAS Berlin), Henk Zeevat (Potsdam), Helen de Hoop (Nijmegen) and Reinhard Blutner (Amsterdam)


Based on the tenets of the so-called ‘radical pragmatics’ school, this workshop takes a particular view with regard to the relationship between content and linguistically encoded meaning. The traditional view embodied in the work of Montague and Kaplan sees content being fully determined by linguistic meaning relative to a contextual index. In contrast, the radical view sees a dissociation between the two; although linguistic meaning is clearly important to content, it does not determine it, as pragmatic principles also play a role. The central issue of this workshop is how to give a principled account of the determination of content. Seeing linguistic meanings as underdetermining the content (proposition) expressed, there must be a pragmatic mechanism of completion which can be best represented as an optimization procedure. The workshop aims to demonstrate that the explanatory principles wished-for can best be approached by means of the general framework of Optimality Theory.

The idea of optimization was present in the pragmatic enterprise from the very beginning. Much more than in other linguistic fields optimality scenarios are present in most lines of thinking: Zipf’s balancing between effect and effort, the Gricean conversational maxims, Ducrot’s argumentative view of language use, the principle of optimal relevance in Relevance theory. However, in the course of the development of OT, the area of OT semantics and pragmatics was developed after everything else. This appears rather puzzling, and the reasons for that might be manifold.

The core of the optimality theoretic paradigm comprises  the idea of an optimal input-output relation and a precise determination of the ordered set of competing candidates. But OT is more than advice for optimization. It includes a powerful learning theory. It realizes an opportunity to overcome the gap between competence and performance, and it makes it possible to employ the same system of constraints for both generation  and interpretation. Last but not least, OT opens a way for a systematic account of typology and language change. In phonology, morphology and syntax, OT has already proven a potent and  productive  new tool in linguistic analysis. More recently, OT has been applied to the domain of  semantics (de Hoop & de Swart 1998, Hendriks & de Hoop 2001).  The aim of this workshop  is to demonstrate that OT likewise finds fruitful applications in the domain of pragmatics, overcoming the gap between linguistic meaning and utterance meaning (content expressed).

There are three strands to this research. The first and most important one is formed by various studies reconstructing pragmatic insights in bidirectional optimality theory: studies relatated to presupposition, implicatures, iconicity, pronoun resolution, discourse relations, ambiguity, specificity, topic and focus, and lexical pragmatics. The reconstruction tends to lead to simpler theories and to improvements on the existing insights. This has been most significantly the case so far in presupposition theory and with respect to the interpretation of anaphora. The second area of research concerns the nature of a OT pragmatics as such. What are the principles involved and how can they and their ordering be motivated? The notions of  relevance and economy have particularly been in focus here. A newer theme, but one that was implicit in older work, is the attempt also to understand syntax and semantics and their development from the perspective of bidirectional OT pragmatics.


Saturday, June 8

15.00 - 15.45 Reinhard Blutner, Anatoli Strigin, Henk Zeevat, and Helen de Hoop Introduction
15.45 - 16.45 Helen de Hoop On the interpretation of stressed pronouns
16.45 - 17.15 Tea/Coffee
17.15 -18.15 Petra Hendriks Constraint Interaction in Focus Particle Constructions
18.15 - ... Time for informal discussions

Sunday, June 9

10.00 - 11.00 Tea/Coffee Time for informal discussions
11.00 - 12.00 Jennifer Spenader Optionality of Form in Demonstrative Noun Phrases in Swedish
12.00 - 13.00 Hanjung Lee/David Beaver Input-output mismatches in Optimality Theory: An abstract perspective
13.00 - 14.30 Lunchtime
14.30 - 15.30 Jason Mattausch Optimality Theory and Binding Phenomena
15.30 - 16.30 Hans-Martin Gärtner On the OT-status of "Unambiguous Encoding"
16.30 - 17.00 Tea/Coffee
17.00 - 18.00 Torgrim Solstad Towards the Constrained Lexicon
18.00 - ...  Time for informal discussions

Monday, June 10

10.00 - 11.00 Ralf Vogel Recoverability and Bidirectional Optimisation
11.00 - 12.00 Henk Zeevat Particles as Context Markers and Speech Act Markers