Kai von Fintel at CIDRAL

Posted on September 14, 2016 by



The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Arts and Languages (CIDRAL) runs a series of invited lectures and masterclasses around an overarching theme. The theme for the first semester of 2016-17 is Possible Worlds, and we’re in the fortunate position of having Professor Kai von Fintel (MIT) as the first speaker. The lecture will take place in the afternoon/evening of the 18th of October and the masterclass in the morning of 19th of October (exact times TBC). Please mark your calendars!

Kai is a world-leading expert in the area of modality and conditionals (among other things) and so this is a unique opportunity to meet him, hear him talk about his research and discuss your own research with him. The abstracts for the two CIDRAL events are included below.

LEL is also planning to organize a workshop in the afternoon of the 19th around the theme Possible Worlds (in linguistics, not necessarily from a formal perspective), where colleagues (both students and staff) present their own work (finished or in progress) in this area.


CIDRAL lecture: “If”
Cognition and language revolve around distinguishing between alternative ways the world might be. As a possible worlds semanticist, I explore the grammar of how language connects us to possibilities. After a whirlwind survey of the field, I focus on some of my research on conditionals. This includes both the familiar “if … then …” kind but also many “if-less” kinds (“Walk in there and the dog barks at you”). I argue that conditionals are a core pattern at the heart of grammar and that “if” is merely a convenient lexification.

Masterclass: “How to do conditional things with words”
When one asserts a conditional sentence (“if Alex left, Brianna left as well”), when one issues a conditional imperative (“if Charlotte calls, tell her I’m not here!”), when one proposes a conditional bet (“if the die comes up with an even number, I bet it’ll be a six”), when one asks a conditional question (“if Dana visits, what should we have for dinner?”) are we looking at an unconditional speech act with a conditional content, or at a conditional speech act? I will argue that at least some such cases are indeed conditional speech acts. I set out to provide a compositional, formal analysis of such conditional speech acts. This is not trivial: the theories of conditional sentences that are prevalent in formal semantics and the theories of speech acts prevalent in formal pragmatics do not easily combine to explain the phenomenon of conditional speech acts. We will have to revise both ingredient theories a bit to make them fit together productively. What emerges is a new typology of conditional constructions.

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