LiSLab Teams


Elizabeth Coppock Elizabeth Coppock (Ph.D., Stanford University)
Assistant Professor (Linguistics), Boston University
specializing in Semantics & Pragmatics

See my website for an updated list of publications.

Major Collaborative Projects

Degree Abstraction: Parameter or Universal?

Depiction of "The boat is wider than Mary is tall".
An image from the storyboard elicitation materials, containing a subcomparative construction.

It has been claimed that some languages, including Mandarin, Japanese, Yoruba, Samoan, and Moore, lack so-called degree abstraction (a configuration at LF involving lambda abstraction over a degree trace). But upon closer inspection, some of these languages have turned out to have it, as recent literature has shown. Does every language have it? Is it, in other words, a universal? Or can we find solid evidence that some languages really lack it?

Starting with a closer examination of Mandarin spearheaded by BU PhD student Ying Gong, this project has developed a new set of eliciation materials for degree abstraction, including two storyboards drawn by BU undergraduate student Tomiris Kaumenova and applied to Moore (a Gur language spoken in Burkina Faso) by the whole team. We are currently in the process of analyzing those results. As a next step, we hope to refine our elicitation materials and apply them to Ende (spoken in Papua New Guinea in the Pahaturi River region) with the help of Professor Kate Lindsey.

Kate Lindsey Kate Lindsey
Assistant Professor (Linguistics), Boston University
Expert on best practices for fieldwork elicitation and languages of Papua New Guinea
Ying Gong
Ph.D. student (Linguistics), Boston University
Theoretical analysis of Mandarin and development of fieldwork elicitation materials applied to other languages
Mercedes Valladares Mercedes Valladares
Undergraduate student, Boston University
Analysis of Moore interview data and follow-up elicitations.
UROP awardee, Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 (Thank you UROP!)
Tomiris Kaumenova Tomiris Kaumenova
Undergraduate student, Boston University
Visual elicitation materials for degree abstraction (two storyboards)
UROP awardee, Summer 2021 (Thank you UROP!)
Published outcomes so far:

Gong, Ying and Elizabeth Coppock (2021). Mandarin has degree abstraction after all. Talk presented at the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. (Video, Slides)


Different lexicon, different implicatures

Plotting production vs. comprehension results for finger vs. thumb in English vs. Spanish

If scalar implicatures depend on what alternatives are in the lexicon, do differences across languages as to what’s in the lexicon drive cross-linguistic differences in scalar implicature? Short answer: Yes! We show this through comprehension and production experiments across several different languages, including Spanish, Russian, Persian, and Arabic, based on the idea that the existence of thumb in English causes a finger-to-not-thumb implicature.

Computational modelling in the Rational Speech Act framework, furthermore, shows that listeners have a good understanding of the probability with which speakers will choose alternatives from the lexicon, and use this information in the computation (or non-computation) of implicatures.

Danielle Dionne Danielle Dionne
PhD student (Linguistics), Boston University
Lead investigator
Michelle Ramiz Michelle Ramiz
Undergraduate student, Boston University
Adapted experimental materials to languages other than Spanish
UROP awardee, Fall 2020 (Thank you UROP!)
Published outcomes so far:

Dionne, Danielle and Elizabeth Coppock (2020). Cross-linguistic pragmatic differences as a function of hyponym viability. Talk presented at LSA 2020. (Slides).

Dionne, Danielle and Elizabeth Coppock (2020). Tattoos as a window onto cross-linguistic pragmatic differences. Poster presentation at the first Experiments in Linguistic Meaning conference, Philadelphia, PA.


Experimenting with Haddock descriptions

Sample stimulus. After clicking on the audio button, participants would hear, “Click on the rabbit in the bigger ****”, where white noise masks the final word.

As Haddock noticed, the rabbit in the hat succeeds in referring even if there are multiple hats; all that matters is that there is only one hat containing a rabbit. Haddock proposed that this was a natural consequence of incremental processing. Using nested definite descriptions containing gradable modifiers like the rabbit in the big/bigger bag in a series of Visual World experiments, we give evidence for Bumford’s scope-based analysis of Haddock descriptions, as opposed to one involving incremental processing. We also give evidence for what we call referential garden path effects, where the listener is thrown off by temporarily settling on the wrong referent.

Helena Aparicio Helena Aparicio
Assistant Professor (Linguistics), Cornell University
(Formerly postdoc at MIT)
Lead investigator
Roger Levy Roger Levy
Professor (BCS), MIT
Computational modelling
Sabrina Tran Sabrina Tran
Former undergraduate student, Boston University
Developed visual materials for experiments
Published outcomes so far:

Aparicio, Helena, Roger Levy and Elizabeth Coppock (2019). How to find the rabbit in the big(ger) box: Reasoning about contextual parameters for relative adjectives under embedding. Poster presented at XPRAG 2019, Edinburgh, June 2019. (Poster)

Aparicio, Helena and Elizabeth Coppock (2019). Context effects in the interpretation of Haddock descriptions. Poster at the 32nd Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, March 29-31, 2019, Boulder, CO.


Generating referring expressions for objects in complex scenes

Point to the dog with the frisbee.

This interdisciplinary project between Linguistics and Computer Science aims to improve on the state of the art for natural language generation of referring expressions for objects in complex scenes.

We hope to combine insights from Rational Speech Act models with insights from deep learning and computer vision in order to generate referring expressions with appropriate modifiers.

Derry Wijaya Derry Wijaya
Assistant Professor (Computer Science), Boston University
Co-Principal Investigator
Peter Chin Peter Chin
Assistant Professor (Computer Science), Boston University
Advisor to Hieu Le
Hieu Le Hieu Le
PhD student (Computer Science), Boston University
Implementation of referring expression generator
Danielle Dionne Danielle Dionne
Graduate student (Linguistics), Boston University
Bayesian modelling and statistical analysis
Elias Ganem Elias Ganem
BA (Linguistics), Boston University
Developed two-player interactive web reference game for human data collection
Nathanial Graham Nathanial Graham
Undergraduate student, Boston University
Literature review, data annotation, Bayesian modelling
Recipient of UROP award in Summer 2020 (Thank you UROP!)

Not pictured: Shije Zhao (PhD student, Computer Science), Wenxing Liu (PhD student, Computer Science), Shawn Lin (PhD student, Statistics).

Published outcomes so far:

Elizabeth Coppock, Danielle Dionne, Nathanial Graham, Elias Ganem, Shijie Zhao, Shawn Lin, Wenxing Liu and Derry Wijaya (2020). Informativity in Image Captions vs. Referring Expressions. In C. Howes, S. Chatzikyriakidis, A. Ek and V. Somashekarappa (eds.): PAM 2020: Proceedings of the Conference on Probability and Meaning, pp. 104–108. (PDF)


The semantics and pragmatics of superlative modifiers

True or false: There are at most five butterflies in this picture.

Expressions with superlative modifiers at least and at most have slightly different pragmatic properties than near-equivalents formed with more and less. This project seeks to demonstrate, understand, and model theoretically the various semantic and pragmatic differences among them, using a combination of traditional and experimental methods. The framework of Inquisitive Semantics plays an important role in the discussion.


Floris Roelofsen Floris Roelofsen
Professor, ILLC, University of Amsterdam
Alexandre Cremers Alexandre Cremers
Postdoctoral researcher, Vilnius University
(former postdoc at ILLC)
Jakob Dotlacil Jakub Dotlačil
Assistant Professor, Utrecht University
(former postdoc at ILLC)
Ivano Ciardelli Ivano Ciardelli
Assisant Professor, Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy
(former postdoc at ILLC)
Thomas Brochhagen Thomas Brochhagen
Researcher, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
(former MA student at Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf)
Published (or near-published) outcomes:

Cremers, Alexandre, Elizabeth Coppock, Jakub Dotlacil and Floris Roelofsen (under review). Modified numerals: Two routes to ignorance. Linguistics and Philosophy.

Range expressions ameliorate Depictive Sincerity violations. Workshop on the occasion of Dominique Blok’s dissertation defense, Utrecht, June 2019.

Coppock, Elizabeth and Floris Roelofsen and Ivano Ciardelli (2017). Implicatures of modified numerals: Quantity or Quality? In Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 21. (PDF)

Coppock, Elizabeth (2016). Superlative modifiers as modified superlatives. In Mary Maroney, Carol-Rose Little, Jacob Collard and Dan Burgdorf (eds.), Proceedings of SALT 26, pp. 471-488. eLanguage. (PDF)

Coppock, Elizabeth and Thomas Brochhagen (2013). Raising and Resolving Issues with Scalar Modifiers. Semantics and Pragmatics 6(3): 1-57. (PDF)

Coppock, Elizabeth and Thomas Brochhagen (2013). Diagnosing truth, interactive sincerity, and depictive sincerity. In T. Snider (ed.) Proceedings of SALT 23, pp. 358- 375. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications. (PDF)


Most and more: Quantity superlatives across languages

In English, most and the most tend to mean different things. The former has a so-called proportional reading, the latter a relative reading. This project investigates the semantics of quantity words like many and few in their superlative forms (most, fewest), and finds that English is the odd man out when it comes to how these typically behave — normally the superlatives of quantity words do not give rise to a proportional interpretation. In our Language paper, we argue for a particular explanation for this finding, building on assumptions about the meaning of quantity words.

Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten
(former postdoc at University of Gothenburg)
Led data-collection and analysis
Golsa Nouri-Hosseini Golsa Nouri-Hosseini
(former master’s student at University of Gothenburg)
Data collection and extensive interlinear glossing

Not pictured: Christian Josefson and Linnea Strand (former undergraduates at the University of Gothenburg)

Selected published outcomes:

Coppock, Elizabeth, Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten, and Golsa Nouri-Hosseini (2020). Universals in superlative semantics. Language 96(3): 471—506. (Published version)

Bogal-Allbritten, Elizabeth and Elizabeth Coppock (2020). Quantification, degrees and beyond in Navajo. In Peter Hallman (ed.), Interactions of Degree and Quantification, pp. 121—162. Leiden: Brill. (PDF)

Coppock, Elizabeth (2019). Quantity Superlatives in Germanic, or ‘Life on the fault line between adjective and determiner’. Journal of Germanic Linguistics 31(2): 109— 200. DOI: 10.1017/S1470542718000089. (Published version)

Coppock, Elizabeth and Linnea Strand (2019). Most vs. the most in languages where the more means most. In Ana Aguilar-Guevera, Julia Pozas Loyo and Violeta Vázquez Rojas Maldonado (eds.), Definiteness Across Languages, 371—417. Berlin: Language Science Press. (PDF)

Nouri-Hosseini, Golsa, and Elizabeth Coppock (2017). Storyboards vs. Picture-aided translation: A case study on the typology of comparison. Workshop on Elicitation Tools for Linguistic Description and Typology, University of Paris Diderot, November 2017. (PDF)

Coppock, Elizabeth and Christian Josefson (2015). Completely bare Swedish superlatives. In E. Csipak and H. Zeijlstra (eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 20. (PDF)


The semantics of definiteness

Fieldwork elicitation on Turoyo over Zoom

What does the mean, and what does definiteness-marking mean in other languages?

This is more of a theme than a particular project, comprising more or less separate projects on Hungarian, English, Swedish, and Turoyo (an endangered Semitic language).


Collaborators on various aspects of this issue:
David beaver David Beaver
Professor, University of Texas at Austin
Stepen Wechsler Stephen Wechsler
Professor, University of Texas at Austin
Elisabet Engdahl Elisabet Engdahl
Professor Emeritus, University of Gothenburg
Miriam Yifrach Miriam Yifrach
(former undergraduate student at Boston University)
Published (or near-published) outcomes:

Turoyo (an endangered Semitic language)

Yifrach, Miriam and Elizabeth Coppock (under review). Defining definiteness in Turoyo. Glossa. (PDF)


Elisabet Engdahl and Elizabeth Coppock (2017). Absolut superlativ i samtida språkbruk. Språk och Stil 27: 5—20. (PDF)

Coppock, Elizabeth and Elisabet Engdahl (2016). Quasi-Definites in Swedish: Elative Superlatives and Emphatic Assertion. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 34(4): 1181-1243. (Published version) (Manuscript PDF)


Coppock, Elizabeth and David Beaver (2015). Definiteness and Determinacy. Linguistics and Philosophy 38(5): 377-435. (PDF)

Beaver, David and Elizabeth Coppock (2015). Novelty and familiarity for free. In Proceedings of the 2015 Amsterdam Colloquium. (PDF)

Coppock, Elizabeth and David Beaver (2014). A superlative argument for a minimal theory of definiteness. In T. Snider (ed.) Proceedings of SALT 24, pp. 177-196. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications. (PDF)


Object Agreement in Hungarian: In defense of a semantic solution. Keynote address at the 14th International Conference on the Structure of Hungarian, Potsdam, June 2019. (PDF)

Coppock, Elizabeth (2013). A Semantic Solution to the Problem of Hungarian Object Agreement. Natural Language Semantics 21(4): 345-371. (Published version) (Manuscript PDF)

Coppock, Elizabeth and Stephen Wechsler (2012). The objective conjugation in Hungarian: Agreement without phi features. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 30(3): 699-740. (Manuscript PDF) (Published version)



How do the semantics of opinion statements differ from the semantics of factual statements? In languages that encode perspective-dependence as part of the grammar (egophoricity, in particular), is this perspective-dependence encoding the same kind of subjectivity involved in statements of opinion? If not, how should it be modelled?


The intriguing paradigm of egophoricity in Kathmandu Newari


Papers on these issues:

Coppock, Elizabeth and Stephen Wechsler (2018). The proper treatment of egophoricity in Kathmandu Newari. In M. Huang and K. Jaszczolt (eds.), Expressing the Self: Cultural Diversity and Cognitive Universals, Oxford University Press, pp. 40-57. (PDF)

Coppock, Elizabeth (2018). Outlook-based Semantics. Linguistics and Philosophy 41: 125-164. (Published version) (Manuscript PDF)