Exciting things are always afoot.

Cremers/Coppock/Dotlacil/Roelofsen published in L&P!

By Elizabeth CoppockAugust 18th, 2021in News

Just out in Linguistics and Philosophy: Modified numerals: Two routes to ignorance

by Alexandre Cremers, Elizabeth Coppock, Jakub Dotlacil and Floris Roelofsen

Abstract: Modified numerals, such as at least three and more than five, are known to sometimes give rise to ignorance inferences. However, there is disagreement in the literature regarding the nature of these inferences, their context dependence, and differences between at least and more than. We present a series of experiments which sheds new light on these issues. Our results show that (a) the ignorance inferences of at least are more robust than those of more than, (b) the presence and strength of the ignorance inferences triggered by both at least and more than depends on the question under discussion (QUD), and (c) whether ignorance inferences are detected in a given experimental setting depends partly on the task that participants are asked to perform (e.g., an acceptability task versus an inference task). We offer an Optimality Theoretic account of these findings. In particular, the task effect is captured by assuming that in performing an acceptability task, participants take the speaker's perspective in order to determine whether an expression is optimal given a certain epistemic state, while in performing an inference task they take the addressee's perspective in order to determine what the most likely epistemic state of the speaker is given a certain expression. To execute the latter task in a fully rational manner, participants have to perform higher-order reasoning about alternative expressions the speaker could have used. Under the assumption that participants do not always perform such higher-order reasoning but also often resort to so-called unidirectional optimization, the task effect finds a natural explanation. This also allows us to relate our finding to asymmetries between comprehension and production that have been found in language acquisition.

Dionne & Coppock (2021) published!

By Elizabeth CoppockJuly 30th, 2021in News

Danielle Dionne & Elizabeth Coppock published "Tattoos as a window onto cross-linguistic differences in scalar implicature" in the first-ever volume of Experiments in Linguistic Meaning!

Read it here:

Cite as: Dionne, Danielle and Elizabeth Coppock (2021). Tattoos as a window onto cross-linguistic differences in scalar implicature. In Andrea Beltrama, Florian Schwarz, and Anna Papafragou (eds.), Experiments in Linguistic Meaning, Vol. 1, pp. 147--158

Abstract: This paper addresses the question of how to predict which alternatives are active in scalar implicature calculation, and the nature of this activation. It has been observed that finger implicates 'not thumb', and a Manner-based explanation for this has been proposed, predicting that if English had the simplex Latin word pollex meaning 'thumb or big toe', then finger would cease to have the implicature 'not thumb' that it has. It has also been suggested that this hypothetical pollex would have to be sufficiently colloquial in order to figure in scalar implicature calculation. This paper makes this thought experiment into a real one by using a language that behaves in exactly this way: Spanish has pulgar 'thumb' (< pollex), a non-colloquial form. We first use a fill-in-the-blank production task with both English and Spanish speakers to guage the likelihood with which a speaker will produce a given form as a way of describing a given digit. Production frequency does not perfectly track complexity, so we can then ask whether comprehension follows production frequency or complexity. We do so using a forced choice comprehension task, which reveals cross-linguistic differences in comprehension tracking production probabilities. A comparison between two RSA models -- one in which the speaker perfectly replicates our production data and a standard one in which the speaker chooses based on a standard cost/accuracy trade-off -- illustrates the fact that comprehension is much more closely tied to production probability than to the mere existence of sufficiently simple alternatives.

Probability and Meaning 2020

By Elizabeth CoppockOctober 31st, 2020in News

We gave a talk at the Probability and Meaning conference, hosted by the University of Gothenburg in October 2020. In this talk, we undertake a side-by-side comparison between image captioning and reference game human datasets and show that they differ systematically with respect to informativity.


The related paper can be found here:

It can be cited as:

Coppock, Elizabeth, 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.

Published in Language!

By Elizabeth CoppockSeptember 26th, 2020in News

An article entitled “Universals in Superlative Semantics” by Elizabeth Coppock, Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten, and Golsa Nouri-Hosseini has been published in Language, the official journal of the Linguistic Society of America! Click here to read it.


This article reports on the results of a broad crosslinguistic study on the semantics of quantity words such as many in the superlative (e.g. most). While some languages use such a form to express both a relative reading (as in Gloria has visited the most continents) and a proportional reading (as in Gloria has visited most continents), the vast majority do not allow the latter, though all allow the former. It is argued that a degree-quantifier analysis of quantity words is best suited to explain why proportional readings typically do not arise for quantity superlatives. Based on morphosyntactic evidence, two alternative diachronic pathways through which proportional quantifiers may develop from quantity superlatives are identified.

Ying Gong presents at LFRG

By Elizabeth CoppockSeptember 26th, 2020in News

On Wednesday, September 23rd, Ying Gong presented her work in progress on degree abstraction in Mandarin at LFRG (LF Reading Group) at MIT.

Abstract: According to Beck et al. (2004), not all languages with degree predicates have degree abstraction. A language with a negative setting of their degree abstraction parameter (DAP) is one in which degree variables cannot be bound in the syntax. Mandarin, along with Japanese, Yoruba, Mòoré, and Samoan, is argued to be a [-DAP] language with degree predicates Beck et al. (2010). Recent work, however, has argued for degree abstraction in Japanese (Shimoyama, 2012; Sudo, 2015), and Yoruba (Howell, 2013). We argue that Mandarin has degree abstraction too, contraKrasikova (2008), Beck et al. (2010) and Erlewine (2018). We rebut the previous arguments and present positive evidence from degree questions, wh-correlatives (subequatives), scope interactions with modals (exactly-differentials and little-sentences), and attributive comparatives.