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Vendler Reading Group

The Vendler Reading Group is an interdisciplinary group composed of faculty and graduate students from philosophy and linguistics. The group's main goal is to facilitate communication between researchers working on issues related to the syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of natural languages. The group meets approximately twice a semester to discuss current research, work in progress by reading group members, and to host visiting scholars. 

Proposed activities for 2019-2020

In 2019-2020 we propose to organize a series of six meetings and a workshop. Each meeting we will discuss an article about the semantics, pragmatics, or processing of the progressive. For the workshop, we will invite two speakers to present their recent research on the progressive. While both speakers will be conversant with philosophers and linguists, we’ll invite one speaker who is primarily engaged with philosophers and another primarily engaged with linguists. Brad Skow (M.I.T), our philosophy-centric invitee, examines the way that linguistic aspect matches metaphysical reality and makes several novel distinctions that he applies to some familiar philosophical problems. Valentine Hacquard (University of Maryland), our linguistics-centric invitee, examines the compositional semantics of aspect and the way it interacts with other linguistic mechanisms like tense. Bringing these two theorists together will provide substantial opportunity for interdisciplinary insight. Our 2019-2020 program is modeled on our 2016-2017, 2017-2018, 2018-2019 programs which, thanks to CIH funding, generated fruitful interdisciplinary interaction. In fact, our 2018-2019 program was our most successful ever, with more than 30 attendees, including undergrads, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty of all ranks.   

The Progressive

Consider a mundane event, like Emma’s eating breakfast. When we speak about that event, natural language allows us to locate it relative to our current time. For instance, if we want to express that it already happened, we’ll utter “Emma ate breakfast”. If we want to express that it will happen in the future, we’ll utter “Emma will eat breakfast”. In addition to simply placing the event in the past or future, we can express that it is unfolding as we speak. For this we use the suffix “ing”, as in “Emma is eating breakfast”. 

The progressive morpheme “ing” is certainly not limited to eating. We can append it to many (though not all) verbs to express that an event of some kind is happening. Unlike the future or past tense, that have relatively straightforward semantics (they locate the event after/before the time of utterance), the meaning of “ing” is still deeply controversial. This should not be surprising. After all, in order to understand the meaning of “ing” it seems as if we have to answer a deeply vexing question about the nature of events—what is it for something to happen? 

Any adequate semantics for the progressive mopheme will have to account for the fact that progressive sentences can be true even if the events they speak about never culminate. For instance, “I am crossing the street” may be true even if I never get across. Dowty (1979) proposed an influential way to account for this. His idea was to explain the progressive in terms of possible trajectories. The idea is that if it is true that I am crossing the street, then it is true that I will cross the street if my event continues unimpeded.

Following Dowty, some have tried to make precise the notion of continuing unimpeded. Others, however, argue that this entire approach is misguided and we should rather understand the progressive as a fundamental notion itself or in term of another notion like parthood. The division between these types of approaches marks one of the fundamental divisions in approaches to the progressive.

Our goal in the Vendler group will be to examine the debate over the meaning of the progressive in detail. We’ll then be in an perfect position to invite two well-known experts on the progressive to present their competing views. 

Convener:

Dr. David Liebesman, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy (david.liebesman@ucalgary.ca)

Participants:
Dimitrios Skordos (Linguistics), Nicole Wyatt (Philosophy), Betsy Ritter (Linguistics), Susanne Carroll (Linguistics), Ali Kazmi (Philosophy), Mark Migotti (Philosophy), Dennis Storoshenko (Linguistics), Jonathan Payton (Philosophy).

The group invites all faculty and graduate students in both Linguistics and Philosophy and individual faculty with related interests in the Faculty of Arts.

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