Department of Linguistics
University of Konstanz
tkoev [at] scarletmail [dot] rutgers [dot] edu
I obtained my PhD in linguistics from Rutgers University in 2013. After that, I was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Stuttgart and the University of Düsseldorf. Currently, I am an Emmy Noether Fellow at the University of Konstanz. During the fall of 2018, I will be a Visiting Scholar at MIT.
Here is my full Curriculum Vitae.
As a theoretical linguist, my goal is to understand how language works. My research program is grounded in formal semantics and pragmatics, and is informed by my interests in experimental linguistics, dynamic semantics, formal syntax, and Slavic and Germanic linguistics. Broadly speaking, I am interested in how grammar and discourse structure constrain linguistic meaning and I have worked on topics such as parentheticality, evidentiality, modality, indefiniteness, at-issueness, projection, and adverbial modification. The methodologies I use to gain insights into these topics include traditional and experimental techniques of data collection as well as formal tools from logic and probabilistic reasoning. My far-reaching goal is to establish a reliable and predictive theory of the various factors (operator scope, projectivity, evidence source, information status, etc.) that anchor semantic content, thus refining our understanding of how seemingly independent meaning dimensions are integrated into a coherent whole.
To appear. "Notions of At-issueness." Language and Linguistics Compass. doi 10.1111/lnc3.12306. [preprint] [paper]
Upon hearing the sentence Messi, who once scored a goal with his hand, won the Ballon d’Or, the addressee is likely to interpret the main clause as conveying the “main point” and view the appositive relative clause as contributing secondary information. The intuition that some part of the utterance conveys the main point has recently been discussed in formal semantics and pragmatics under the label of “at-issueness”. However, this label has been used in a variety of ways and there is often little clarity as to what is meant by it. This survey tries to clear things up by identifying and spelling out three specific notions of at-issueness, i.e. Q(uestion)-at-issueness, P(roposal)-at-issueness, and C(oherence)-at-issueness. After looking into what they say about similar kinds of data, I conclude that while these notions appear to capture facets of the same broad intuition, they are truly distinct. The paper also discusses potential connections of at-issueness to projection and commitment strength.
2017. "Quotational Indefinites." Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 35(2): 367–396. doi 10.1007/s11049-016-9344-x. [preprint] [paper]
This paper discusses one understudied variety of indefinites, which I call QUOTATIONAL INDEFINITES. Quotational indefinites are attested in languages like Bulgarian and German (see Cieschinger & Ebert 2011 on the latter), and are akin to Japanese wh-doublets (Sudo 2008; ms) and English placeholder words like whatshisface or so-and-so (cf. Clark & Gerrig 1990). The main claim of the paper is that quotational indefinites have a mixed semantics: they range over linguistic expressions yet make reference to both expressions and their denotations. These indefinites also require that the expressions they quantify over be of a certain type (a referential expression, a particular type of adverbial, etc.) and be uttered in a previous conversation. The formal analysis is framed in a two-dimensional semantics (Potts 2005; 2007) which cleanly separates the indefinite force and the reportative implications of sentences with quotational indefinites. This work uncovers important interactions between indefiniteness, quotation, and reportativity, and broadens our understanding of the typology of indefinites.
2017. "Evidentiality, Learning Events, and Spatiotemporal Distance: The View from Bulgarian." Journal of Semantics 34(1): 1–41. doi 10.1093/jos/ffv014. [preprint] [paper]
This paper defends the view that evidentiality need not be a semantic primitive but can rather be pragmatically derived from the spatiotemporal distance between the event described by the sentence and the "learning event", i.e. the event of the speaker acquiring the relevant evidence for her claim. While the empirical focus is on the Bulgarian evidential -l, this work adds to similar proposals about evidential markers in typologically unrelated languages (see Nikolaeva 1999, Fleck 2007, Speas 2010, Kalsang et al. 2013, Lee 2013). The view of evidentiality as a spatiotemporal distance undermines the claim that evidential sentences in Bulgarian have a modal force (see Izvorski 1997, Smirnova 2013) and correctly predicts that speakers are typically committed to the core proposition described by evidential sentences. The paper also discusses the not-at-issue discourse status and projection behavior of the evidential implication, suggesting that evidential meanings belong to the broader class of 'conventional implicatures', in the sense of Potts (2005). The formal proposal, couched in an update semantics, successfully captures not only the meaning of the evidential marker but also the discourse properties of evidential sentences in Bulgarian.
2015. "Experimental Evidence for the Truth Conditional Contribution and Shifting Information Status of Appositives" (with Kristen Syrett). Journal of Semantics 32(3): 525–577. doi: 10.1093/jos/ffu007. [paper] [preprint]
Appositive constructions (My friend Sophie, (who is) a classical violinist, performed a piece by Mozart) have stood at the center of debates concerning the range of possible meanings, and more specifically the status of not-at-issue entailments. However, it remains an open question what precisely their semantic and pragmatic contribution is to the sentence in which they appear. Here, we address this question head-on experimentally. We first investigate the information status of appositives and find that while nominal appositives (e.g. a classical violinist) and sentence-medial appositive relative clauses (e.g. who is a classical violinist) are largely not at issue, sentence-final appositive relative clauses can become at issue, as witnessed in their becoming the target of a direct rejection and being associated with subsequent questions. We then investigate the truth conditional contribution of appositives to sentences in which they appear, and find that whenever an appositive is false, participants judge the entire sentence False. Reaction times complement truth value ratings to demonstrate that this decision is largely automatic. We discuss possible reasons for the difference among appositive types and sentential positions, and propose that the pattern of results we observe and the strong similarity with conjunction can best be accounted for in a unidimensional semantics which treats appositives as dynamic conjuncts but which also relates linguistic form to the timing of making assertions in discourse.
2015. "An “Antiproviso Problem” for Appositive Relative Clauses." Snippets 29(4): 11–12. [paper]
The central observation of this note is that appositive relative clauses can trigger intermediate, i.e. weaker inferences. In the sentence below the appositive does not contribute to the at-issue content and projects in a weaker, conditionalized inference.
(i) If Jack buys a car, which will probably be a Volvo, his wife will be upset.
At-issue content: If Jack buys a car, his wife will be upset.
Projective inference: If Jack buys a car, it will probably be a Volvo.
I call this the “antiproviso problem” for appositive relative clauses, in reference to the “proviso problem” for presupposition (Geurts 1999).
To appear. "Strong Beliefs, Weak Commitments." Sinn und Bedeutung 23. [draft]
The standard Hintikkan semantics views believe as a universal quantifier over possible worlds, stating that the prejacent is true across all the attitude holder's doxastic alternatives (Hintikka 1969). However, this semantics (i) fails to capture the fact that believe is a gradable predicate (cf. partially believe v. fully believe) and (ii) makes no predictions about the degree of certainty of the belief agent. To remedy these problems, I propose a probabilistic semantics for believe along the general lines of Kennedy & McNally’s (2005) analysis of gradable adjectives. I argue that believe is a strong modal, i.e. it is a maximum-degree predicate. While belief attributions can sometimes be interpreted as hedges (e.g. I believe it’s raining, but I’m not sure it is), I argue (contra Hawthorne et al. 2016) that such weak uses are not the default as they canonically arise with first-person present-tense unembedded forms and under the right pragmatic conditions, i.e. when the belief component is not relevant to the question under discussion. Following up on a suggestion made in Chemla (2008), I propose that the weak sense of believe arises as an antipresupposition, i.e. as a scalar inference derived through competition with a presuppositionally stronger know-competitor. A weak interpretation amounts to a situation in which the speaker expresses full subjective confidence in the prejacent but reneges on publicly committing to it.
2017. "Adverbs of Change, Aspect, and Underspecification." Semantics And Linguistic Theory 27: 22–42, LSA. [paper]
Adverbs of change like quickly or slowly are known to give rise to a number of interpretations. For example, Selena ran quickly says that the rate of running is high while Selena quickly noticed the plane implies that the distance between the event of noticing the plane and some previous event is short. Existing accounts (e.g. Cresswell 1978; Rawlins 2013) take rate readings as primary but struggle to derive additional interpretations. By contrast, I argue that adverbs of change measure the temporal distance between two salient events (or event parts) that are compositionally or contextually available. The main claim of the paper is that adverbs of change have a single if underspecified semantics and that the different interpretations arise through interaction with aspectual and discourse structure.
2017. "Parentheticality, Assertion Strength, and Discourse." Sinn und Bedeutung 21. [paper]
Sentences with so-called SLIFTING PARENTHETICALS (e.g. The dean, Jill said, flirted with the secretary; Ross 1973) grammaticalize an intriguing interaction between speech act function and conventional meaning, one that is not found in regular embedding constructions (e.g. Jill said that the dean flirted with the secretary). In such sentences, the main clause is independently asserted and at the same time interpreted in the scope of the parenthetical, which typically serves an evidential function. The discourse effect of this pragmasemantic set-up is that slifting parentheticals modulate the strength with which the main part of the sentence is asserted (Urmson 1952; Asher 2000; Rooryck 2001; Davis et al. 2007; Simons 2007; Maier & Bary 2015). Building on Davis et al. (2007), this paper proposes a probabilistic discourse model that captures the role of parentheticality as a language tool for qualifying speaker’s commitments. The model also derives two empirical properties that set apart slifting parentheticals from regular embedding constructions, i.e. (i) the fact that slifting parentheticals invariably express upward entailing operators and (ii) the fact that they usually do not occur in subordinate clauses.
2016. "On Quotational Indefinites." Sinn und Bedeutung 20: 412–423, semanticsarchive. [paper]
This paper discusses QUOTATIONAL INDEFINITES, an understudied variety of indefinites that is attested in languages like Bulgarian and German (see Cieschinger & Ebert 2011 on the latter), and are akin to Japanese wh-doublets (see Sudo 2008) and English placeholders like whatshisface or so-and-so (cf. Clark & Gerrig 1990). My major claim is that quotational indefinites existentially quantify over linguistic expressions and make reference to both expressions and their denotations. In addition, such indefinites require that the expressions they quantify over are of a certain type (a referential expression, a particular kind of adverbial, etc.) and originate in a previous conversation. This work uncovers important interactions between indefiniteness, quotation, and reportativity, and broadens our understanding of the typology of indefinites.
2016. "The Shiftability of German Appositive Relatives across Intensional Contexts: Two Experimental Studies." West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics 33: 237–245, Cascadilla. [paper]
The research question that this paper is trying to answer is the following: What factors enable a perspective shift of appositives? I report two experimental studies from German that directly address this question. The experiments show (i) that verbs of saying are more likely to lead to shifted interpretations than other attitude predicates, and also (ii) that the German second subjunctive (Konjunktiv II), which has reportative uses, facilitates perspective shift. The major theoretical implication of this work is that secondary speech contexts are the prototypical appositive shifters.
2014. "Two Puzzles about Appositives: Projection and Perspective Shift." Sinn und Bedeutung 18: 217–234. [paper]
This paper solves two puzzles about the interpretation of appositive constructions in English: (i) it explains why appositives robustly PROJECT even though they are interpreted in situ with respect to order-dependent phenomena such as discourse anaphora; (ii) it analyzes certain non-projective readings of appositives as instances of PERSPECTIVE SHIFT, a phenomenon that bears striking similarities with the phenomenon of shifted indexical pronouns. To solve the first puzzle, I assume that appositives are interpreted in surface position but adopt a less standard mechanism of operator scope according to which operators can bind lexical predicates or other operators. Since appositives form ForcePs and Force operators cannot be bound, it follows that appositives project even when placed in the syntactic scope of a higher operator. With respect to the second puzzle, I argue that shifted appositives are evaluated with respect to a secondary speech context introduced by a verb of saying or inferred from the larger discourse. Since the two mechanisms of projection and perspective shift are independent, they can be given a uniform analysis.
2012. "On the Information Status of Appositive Relative Clauses." Post-proceedings of the Amsterdam Colloquium 18: 401–410, Springer. [paper][preprint]
Existing semantic theories of appositive relative clauses (ARCs) assume that ARCs contribute asserted but not at-issue content (Boer & Lycan 1976, Bach 1999, Chierchia & McConnell-Ginet 2000, Potts 2005, AnderBois et al. 2010, Murray 2010). In this paper I demonstrate that the information status of ARCs depends on their linear position in the clause: clause-medial ARCs are not at-issue whereas clause-final ARCs can behave like regular at-issue content. I propose a uniform one-dimensional semantics under which ARCs are conjuncts that can acquire at-issue status if the issue raised by the main clause has been terminated. The idea is formally implemented in Dynamic Predicate Logic (Groenendijk & Stokhof 1991) enriched with propositional variables (AnderBois et al. 2010).
2011. "Evidentiality and Temporal Distance Learning." Semantics And Linguistic Theory 21: 115–134, elanguage. [paper]
The grammatical category of evidentiality is traditionally defined as marking evidence type or related concepts (Anderson 1986, Willett 1988, Aikhenvald 2004). I argue against this received view as I show that evidential morphemes in Bulgarian mark the temporal distance between the time at which the speaker learned the described proposition and the topic time. I also demonstrate that Bulgarian evidentials represent projective/backgrounded content that is informative but does not affect the described proposition, which is plainly entailed. The latter fact especially has important typological and theoretical consequences. The proposal is formalized in a logic that extends Dynamic Predicate Logic by adding propositional variables (cf. AnderBois et al. 2010).
2011. "Definiteness as Agreement: Evidence from Bulgarian." West Coast Conference of Formal Linguistics 28: 133–141, Cascadilla. [paper]
I address the nature and distribution of the definiteness marker (DEF) in the Bulgarian DP. I argue that DEF is an inflectional suffix whose flexible distribution in the DP is due to what I call 'definiteness agreement'. Definiteness agreement is that part of the overall phi agreement in the DP which takes place between the D head and the highest/closest phi-agreeing element.
2013. Apposition and the Structure of Discourse. Unpublished dissertation, Rutgers University. [dissertation]
"Parentheticality, Assertion Strength, and Polarity." [draft]
In linguistics and philosophy it is often suggested that descriptive content and illocutionary force are cleanly separated. This paper argues that this suggestion is incorrect: descriptive content can modify the strength of the main assertion of the sentence, thus blurring the boundary between semantics and pragmatics. One prominent such case are sentences with slifting parentheticals (e.g. The dean greeted the secretary, Jill said; Ross 1973), which grammaticalize an intriguing interaction between truth-conditional meaning and speech act function. In such sentences, the assertion strength of the slifted clause (the non-parenthetical part of the sentence) is modulated by the parenthetical, which typically provides evidential support (cf. Urmson 1952; Asher 2000; Rooryck 2001; Jayez & Rossari 2004; Davis et al. 2007; Simons 2007; Murray 2014; Maier & Bary 2015; AnderBois 2016; Hunter 2016). Building on the idea that assertability comes in degrees (Lewis 1976; Davis et al. 2007), this paper develops a probabilistic dynamic model that captures the role of parentheticality as a language tool for qualifying commitments. The model also derives several effects of parenthetical modification not found in regular embedding constructions, including the fact that slifting parentheticals are limited to expressing upward-entailing operators.
"At-issueness Does Not Predict Projection." [draft]
The notion of PROJECTION was introduced in Langendoen & Savin (1971) and has since been employed to describe the ability of certain implications to survive embedding under entailment-canceling operators, such as negation or modals. The term has traditionally been applied to presupposed inferences (Karttunen 1973; 1974; Heim 1983; Beaver 2001; a.o.) and has only recently been discussed in the context of non-presupposed projective content, including inferences triggered by appositives, expressives, and evidentials (Potts 2005; Koev 2013; 2016; Murray 2014; AnderBois et al. 2015). In turn, Potts (2005) coined the term AT-ISSUE content to describe implications that constitute the main point of an utterance. In a series of recent papers, David Beaver, Craige Roberts, Mandy Simons, and Judith Tonhauser (henceforth BRST) made the influential proposal that projection can be explained in terms of at-issueness, hypothesizing that there is a perfect correlation between these two categories in the sense that semantic content projects if and only if it is not at-issue (see in particular Simons et al. 2010 and Beaver et al. 2017). I critically evaluate BRST’s account of projection and raise several methodological and empirical issues. I argue that although projection and at-issueness appear to be strongly correlated, there is no perfect overlap in the way envisaged by BRST. In particular, semantic content may project and be at-issue, and it may not project but be not at-issue.
"Appositive Projection and Its Exceptions." [draft]
This paper has two major goals. The first is to offer a comprehensive account of the projection properties of appositive constructions. Appositives posit a challenge to traditional assumptions about form and meaning because they are interpreted in situ with respect to order-dependent phenomena like discourse anaphora but nevertheless escape the syntactic scope of entailment-canceling operators like negation or modals. Accounting for this pattern requires an innovative way of looking at propositional operators and the way they interact with appositives. The second goal of the paper is to address various claimed exceptions to the otherwise robust projection behavior of appositives. I argue that in some cases the construction under consideration is most likely not an appositive at all. In other cases, the observed non-speaker-oriented readings can be derived by pragmatic reasoning or are due to a perspective shift. Although genuine instances of semantically embedded appositives do seem to exist, I point out that such data have a limited empirical scope. I conclude that appositive projection is a pervasive phenomenon and is part and parcel of the semantics of appositives.