I'm interested in a lot of things, and I try to make a point of learning from people who do different things from what I do, and do them using different methods from those I use. I tend to follow an approach that starts by looking in detail at small empirical problems in order to get grip on larger theoretical issues. A recurring theme in my work has been the grammatical footprint of the type/token distinction. Here is a list of some recent projects that I have been involved in:
2021- : Contextual effects in the choice of referring expressions for visually presented entities (AEI, PID2020-112602GB-I00, co-PI Gemma Boleda). People use language to talk about the world, that is, to refer; accordingly, language offers a very rich set of resources for reference. For example, in any given context, a speaker can choose between a more or less specific expression (the dog, the small dog, the chihuahua), or between expressions that convey complementary information about the referent (the woman, the skier). Which referring expression (RE) a speaker chooses on a given occasion depends on various semantic and pragmatic factors. The theoretical goal of the CORE project is to contribute to better understanding the following specific factors and their interaction in RE choice in context, including the set of general principles that intervene in efficient communication, the contextually salient properties of the entity being referred to and features of its immediate environment that influence successful reference, and the implicit semantic organization of RE alternatives and the conventionalized division of labor between them, especially organization based on implicative semantic relations and alternative cross-classifications which highlight different properties of the referred to entities (e.g., woman vs. skier, or variation in the use of noun classifiers in languages such as Mandarin Chinese). Our empirical goal is to study RE choice under more naturalistic conditions than has previously been done. To combine these two broad goals in a single, feasible project, we make the practical decision of centering our attention on reference to single physical entities in visual contexts. We takes as an empirical starting point the ManyNames dataset, the result of a large-scale collection of RE choices for naturalistic images (Silberer et al. 2020).
2020- : Scales in language processing and acquisition (SPA). I'm a Mercator Fellow (together with Ira Noveck) associated with Nicole Gotzner's Emmy-Noether Group at the University of Potsdam. SPA focuses on the interpretation of scalar expressions and the determination of scalar alternatives, particularly in relation to implicature. The project has both a psycholinguistic and acquisition component.
2018-2021: OASIS: Ontology as Structured by the Interfaces with Semantics. This CNRS-funded research network, led by Bridget Copley and Isabelle Roy, is based on the idea that there is a formal semantic ontology whose precise characterization is still to be discovered, not only through methods of model-theoretic semantics and philosophy, but also through syntactic theory and cognitive psychology. The project organizes an annual conference of the same name.
2014-2020: Connecting Conceptual and Referential Models of Meaning (MINE(I)CO, FFI2013-41301-P, FFI2016-76045-P). The overall goal of the project is to take a fresh look at the articulation between conceptual and referential aspects of natural language meaning, based on the empirical results that have been obtained in our recent projects. In many classic references and textbooks on semantics, the views of meaning as involving a semiotic relation to something in the mind (hereafter, the conceptual view) vs. a relation to things in the world (the referential view) are presented in opposition to each other. While this opposition has long been acknowledged to be an oversimplification, in practice, each view has spawned distinct research communities, the interaction between which has historically been rather limited. We start from the hypothesis that both conceptual and referential aspects play a crucial role in meaning composition. Though by itself not a new hypothesis (similar views are relatively explicit e.g. in certain sectors of Discourse Representation Theory and in the Conceptual/Procedural Meaning distinction in Relevance Theory), the novelty of the project will most notably lie in 1) the incorporation of a distributional semantic perspective and 2) the use of diachronic evidence, still a very infrequent method in compositional semantic analysis. In addition, as in previous projects, we will make an effort to focus on understudied empirical phenomena so as to make a contribution to the body of descriptive linguistics literature.
2014-2018: MINECO Thematic Excellence Network Meaning and Grammar (MINECO, FFI2014-51675-REDT, FFI2016-81750-REDT). The goals of this network, which includes researchers from UPF, the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, and the University of the Basque Country, are to promote research activities in the area of the semantics and pragmatics of natural language, to improve training at the graduate level in this area, and to strengthen the critical mass of semantics and pragmatics researchers in Spain, while at the same time raising the visibility and relevance of our research beyond the boundaries of linguistics.
2011-2012: A distributional semantic model for fully recursive phrasal meaning (MICINN, FFI2010-09464-E). No existing theory of how meaning is expressed via human language takes into account both the full richness of conceptual content and the recursive, structural aspects of meaning. The goal of this project was to take a qualitatively different step towards accomplishing this task by combining in a novel way the insights of two radically different approaches to meaning: that of formal semantics and the growing field of distributional semantics. Since the two paradigms have complementary strengths and weaknesses, in drawing on both of them the aim was to overcome their individual limitations. This was a pilot project whose empirical focus was on combining the semantics of nouns, adjectives and determiners. This is an area of research I am continuing to develop in collaboration mainly with Gemma Boleda.
2009-2013: Experimental Pragmatics in Europe (EURO-XPRAG). EURO-XPRAG was an ESF-funded network proposed by Ira Noveck (CNRS/Lyon), Richard Breheny (UCL), Bart Geurts (Nijmegen) and Uli Sauerland (ZAS-Berlin), with participants from 12 countries. The network aimed to support Experimental Pragmatic research through collaborations, workshops and conferences in order to provide leadership for this field. Topics of interest included implicature, metaphor, conditionals, and the expression of quantity, among others. EURO-XPRAG organized yearly workshops and biennial conferences. UPF hosted the 2011 conference. This project has continued under the auspices of the DFG Priority Program XPRAG.de.
2007-2013: Natural language ontology and the semantic representation of abstract objects (MEC, HUM2007-60599/FILO, MICINN FFI2010-15006). An essential part of human communication involves reference to abstract objects such as facts, propositions or situations. The goal of OntoSem was to make progress on a natural language ontology, together with a system of lexical semantic representations and compositional semantic rules, which would permit a semantic analysis of nominalizations and other nouns referring to these abstract objects. In addition to contributing to semantic theory, the project also aimed to improve our understanding of the relation between the semantics of nouns and morphologically related verbs and adjectives, as well as of nominal complementation and modification. As part of this project involved a diachronic study of participles in Spanish, project participants Josep M. Fontana, Gemma Boleda, Cristina Sánchez Marco, Eva Bofias, and Toni Bassaganyas, with the support of Andrés Chandía, have adapted the Freeling suite of tools for contemporary Spanish to the tagging of Old Spanish; they have since also used the same strategy to adapt the Freeling suite for contemporary Catalan to Old Catalan. Learn more about the adaptation of the tools, the corpora we have tagged, and how to access them here.I'm also a member of UPF's Formal Linguistics Research Group GLiF, a consolidated research group recognized by the Generalitat de Catalunya (2017SGR1478, 2014SGR698, 2009SGR00763, 2005SGR00067 (the latter two as part of the larger unit UR-Ling)).