Lichtenberg-Kolleg - The Göttingen Institute for Advanced Study

Dr. Márta Abrusán

October 2011 to July 2012
Ph.D., Somerville College, University of Oxford Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Faculty of Linguistics and Philology, Faculty of Philosophy
University of Oxford, Great Britain

Born 1978 in Budapest, Hungary
Studied English Philology and Linguistics in Budapest and MIT, Cambridge, Mass.

Research Project
Linguistics and Reasoning: Presuppositions, Focus, Aboutness

Modern semantics and pragmatics is characterized by two research traditions: (a) formal semantics, which aims at describing the relationship between linguistic expressions and reality by means of model theoretic concepts. Research in this tradition is formally explicit and mathematically informed, but agnostic about the psychological reality of the structures uncovered. (b) Cognitive semantics aims at discovering the relationship between the meaning of linguistic expressions and mental structures and representations, but without aiming at formal precision. The two traditions however are not incompatible. This research project explores connections between formal semantics and pragmatics of natural languages and mathematically informed studies of human intelligence and commonsense reasoning. Two topics will be explored in detail:

1. Presuppositions, focus and "aboutness": Language conveys information in an ordered fashion: some aspects of the content have a distinguished role, while others remain in the background. Two aspects of this are the phenomena of focus and presupposition. The project will study the question of why presuppositions arise in natural language, how this relates to theories of information organization concerned with "aboutness", and how and why the presence or absence of presuppositions might interact with focus.

2. Analyticity and grammaticality: The study of certain problems in semantics has uncovered that there is a connection between analyticity and the acceptability of sentences: in particular that certain types of contradictions and tautologies lead to ungrammaticality. The second part of the project examines this connection and what its implications for the grammars of natural languages are.

Selected Publications

Abrusán, M. (to appear). Weak Island Semantics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Abrusán, M. (to appear). A Note on Quasi-presuppositions and Focus. Journal of Semantics.

Abrusán, M. 2011. Wh-islands in Degree Questions. Semantics and Pragmatics Volume 4, Article 5: pp. 1–44.

Abrusán, M. 2011. Presuppositional and Negative Islands: A Semantic Account. Natural Language Semantics 19(3): pp. 257–321.

Abrusán, M. and B. Spector. 2011. An Interval-Based Semantics for Degree Questions: Negative Islands and their Obviation, Journal of Semantics 28(1): pp. 107-147.