Nouwen, Making sense of the spatial metaphor for number in natural language

Cross-linguistically, languages only allow modification of numerals by vertically oriented prepositions to yield quantifiers. Quantifiers with horizontal prepositions are non-existent. That is, the cross-linguistic data parallels the English “there were { over / under / *left of / *behind } 100 guests at the party.” While in cognitive psychology it has been shown that there is a close link between numbers and space, I argue that these data are part of a different phenomenon. I propose that what is at play here is a matching of the scale structure of quantity expressions and the inherent boundedness of the vertical axis.

Nouwen, E-type pronouns: congressmen, sheep and paychecks

, submitted to the Semantics Companion,

This is a handbook overview article on e-types in which I discuss a broad range of e-type phenomena and (dynamic) semantic accounts of the data. I argue that it makes sense to distinguish two kinds of e-type pronouns (e1 versus e2).

2018, Bylinina & Nouwen, On “zero” and semantic plurality, to appear in Glossa

 We discuss the semantics of prenominal “zero”, as in ‘I have zero new emails in my inbox’. We show that ‘zero’ is not a quantifier like “no” and that giving “zero” a regular numeral semantics is possible and desirable. We formulate such an analysis and its consequences. We show that the existence of a zero numeral has profound consequences for linguistic semantics. We conclude that the fact that languages allow ascription of zero quantity to an entity provides evidence that linguistic semantics has access to what at first sight may seem like an ontological oddity: an entity with zero quantity. In other words, we will show that studying “zero” can inform us about the underlying semantic ontology of natural language.

2018, Nouwen, Free choice and distribution over disjunction: the case of free choice ability, to appear in Semantics & Pragmatics

A note on the semantics of ability modals in relation to the law of distribution over disjunction and free choice effects. Most current analyses of free choice need distribution over disjunction as an axiom for modals in order to correctly derive free choice inferences. Famously, however, ability modals fail to meet distribution over disjunction (Kenny 1976). Yet, they still give rise to free choice inferences.

2018, Nouwen, A note on positive and negative evaluative adjectives, in a Festschrift for Dany Jaspers.

Some notes on the contrast between being “a bit nasty” and being “?a bit nice”.

2018, Nouwen, Alexandropoulou & McNabb, Experimental work on the Semantics and Pragmatics of Modified Numerals, To appear In: Cummins and Katsos (eds), Handbook of Experimental Semantics and Pragmatics, OUP.

We review the recent experimental approaches to the semantics and pragmatics of modified numerals.

2018, Nouwen & Dotlacil, Cumulative comparison: experimental evidence for degree cumulation. In: Castroviejo-Miro et al., The semantics of gradability, vagueness, and scale structure: experimental perspectives

In this paper we address the question whether it makes sense to assume that the domain of degrees, as used in degree semantics, consists not just of atoms, but also of degree pluralities. A number of recent works have adopted that as- sumption, most explicitly Fitzgibbons et al (2008); Beck (2014); Dotlacil and Nouwen (2016). In this paper, we provide experimental evidence for degree pluralities by showing that comparatives may express cumulative relations between degrees.

2017, Nouwen & Dotlacil, The scope of nominal quantifiers in comparatives, Semantics & Pragmatics 10 (15).

 We identify a new scope puzzle for quantifiers in comparative clauses. In particular, we argue that nominal quantifiers take scope at a much higher level in the degree clause than previously assumed. On the assumption that quantifier scope is clause-bounded, this entails that there must be more structure in the clause than standardly assumed.

2017, Nouwen, Nothing to add, appeared in an online festschrift for Jan van Eijck

 Musings about a small snippet of Haskell code that aims to capture a sufficiently rich notion of context used for the modelling of discourse anaphora in a dynamic semantics. In particular, I discuss the case where downward-entailing quantifiers happen to add nothing to the context.

2017, Alexandropoulou, Dotlacil, & Nouwen, Pragmatic effects of more than and at least in incremental interpretation. Semantics and Linguistic Theory 27.

2016, Alexandropoulou, Dotlacil, & Nouwen, ‘At least’ ignorance inferences come at a processing cost: Support from eye movements. In Mary Moroney, Carol-Rose Little, Jacob Collard & Dan Burgdorf (Eds.), Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 26.

We present results of an eye-tracking reading study that directly probes ignorance effects of the superlative numeral modifier at least in embedding and unembedding environments. We find that interpreting a numeral (phrase) modified by at least in a context with an ignorant speaker is costlier than in a context with a knowledgeable speaker, regardless of whether at least is in an embedding environment or not. In line with online studies testing scalar implicatures using a similar paradigm, this finding is taken to suggest that the observed processing cost is due to the derivation of ignorance interpretations via a pragmatic mechanism. Our results, given the paradigm we employ, further enable us to adjudicate not only between semantic and pragmatic accounts of ignorance, but also among various pragmatic proposals, favouring neo-Gricean accounts that derive ignorance as a quantity implicature (Büring 2008; Cummins & Katsos 2010; Schwarz 2013; Kennedy 2015). We find no evidence indicating that ignorance with at least in interaction with a universal modal involves an extra operation, like covert movement.

2016, Nouwen, Brasoveanu, van Eijck & Visser, Dynamic Semantics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Interpretation of declarative sentences can be viewed as a product or as a process. In the product perspective, one focuses on the notion of truth in a given situation. In the process perspective, interpretation of a proposition is viewed as an information updating step that allows us to replace a given state of knowledge by a new, more accurate knowledge state. Dynamic semantics focuses on interpretation as a process.

2016, Dotlacil & Nouwen, The comparative and degree pluralities Natural Language Semantics, 24(1).

Quantifiers in phrasal and clausal comparatives often seem to take distributive scope in the matrix clause: for instance, the sentence John is taller than every girl is is true iff for every girl it holds that John is taller than that girl. Broadly speaking, two approaches exist that derive this reading without postulating the (problematic) wide scope of the quantifier: the negation analysis and the interval analysis of than-clauses. We propose a modification of the interval analysis in which than-clauses are not treated as degree intervals but as degree pluralities. This small change has significant consequences: it yields a straightforward account of differentials in comparatives and it correctly predicts the existence of hitherto unnoticed readings, viz. cumulative readings of clausal comparatives. Finally, this paper also makes the case that using degree pluralities is conceptually appealing: it allows us to restrict the analysis of comparatives by mechanisms that are postulated independently in the semantics of pluralities.

2016, Alexandropoulou, Dotlacil, McNabb & Nouwen, Pragmatic inferences with numeral modifiers: Novel experimental data. Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory 25.

We present two experiments that probe so-called variation effects of modified numerals that appear in the scope of a universal quantifiers (Geurts & Nouwen 2007; Buering 2008). For example, Every street was guarded by at least three policemen suggests that not every street was guarded by the same number of policemen. This kind of variation is similar to inferences observed with epistemic indefinites. We show, however, that indefinites and modified numerals must differ with respect to the underlying mechanism, or, more specifically, with respect to the structure of the set of alternatives that determines the pragmatic inferences. Results from our experiments indicate that the variation effects of modified numerals include the inference of a witness for the lowest number compatible with the modified numeral. We found the same effects for at least as for more than, but the inferences are weaker for the latter.

2016, McNabb, Alexandropoulou, Blok, Bimpikou & Nouwen, The likelihood of upper-bound construals among numeral modifiers., Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 20.

In this paper we show that modified numerals differ with respect to the nature of the bounds they express. We examine the numeral modifiers “less/fewer than”, “at most” and “up to” in a series of experiments in English and Greek, and investigate to what extent these modifiers impose an upper bound. Our results indicate that the upper-bound construal that up to gives rise to is cancellable in contrast with the uncancellability of the upper-bound construal that “at most” and “less/fewer than” give rise to. This finding is compatible with an analysis that treats the upper bound of “at most” and “less/fewer than” as part of their semantic content and the upper bound of “up to” as a pragmatic inference. In addition, we discuss the effect of the scalar distance between possible alternatives and the modified numeral on the likelihood and strength of the upper-bound construal.

2015, Nouwen & Chernilovskaya, Two types of exclamatives. Linguistic Variation 15:2, pp. 201-224.

We study a particular aspect of the semantics of matrix wh-exclamatives. In particular, we focus on the relation between fairly straightforward morpho- syntactic properties of such structures and the kind of scalar meanings they express. We identify two types of wh-exclamatives: two distinct types of structures with two distinct types of scalar meaning. Languages differ with respect to which wh expressions serve in which of the two types.

2015, Nouwen, Presuppositions of superlatives with neg-raisers. Snippets, 30(2).

I present a puzzle concerning headless superlatives like “the fastest you are allowed to drive”. I show that the relative clauses in such constructions display neg-raising effects, but that these effects raise a puzzle about the presuppositions of superlatives.

2015, Nouwen, Modified numerals: the epistemic effect, In: Alonso-Ovalle, L. and Menendez-Benito, P. (eds), Epistemic Indefinites, Oxford University Press.

I explore the option of account for implicatures of modified numerals using an anti-specificity presupposition.

2015, Nouwen, Plurality, In: P. Dekker and M. Aloni (eds), Cambridge handbook of Semantics. Cambridge University Press.,

In this handbook article, I discuss plurality as a compositional phenomenon, with particular attention to distributivity, cumulativity and dependency.

2014, Nouwen, A note on the projection of appositives. In: E. McCready, K. Yabushita and K. Yoshimoto (eds), Formal approaches to semantics and pragmatics: Japanese and Beyond. Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy, Vol. 95.

2013, Nouwen, Best nogal aardige middenmoters: de semantiek van graadadverbia van het middenbereik (The semantics of adverbs of medium degree.) In Nederlandse Taalkunde, 18(2). 

2011, Chernilovskaya & Nouwen, On wh-exclamatives and noteworthiness. Amsterdam Colloquium.  

2011, Kamoen, Holleman, Nouwen, Sander & van den Berg. Absolutely relative or relatively absolute. Journal of pragmatics 43(13).

2011, Nouwen, [Degree modifiers and monotonicity][21]. In P. Egre and N. Klinedinst (eds), Vagueness and Language Use, Palgrave.

2011, Nouwen, van Rooij, Sauerland & Schmitz. [Introduction][22]. In R. Nouwen, R. van Rooij, U. Sauerland and H-C. Schmitz (eds), Vagueness in Communication.

2010, Nouwen, Two puzzles of requirements.In Aloni, M., Bastiaanse, H., de Jager, T. and Schulz, K. (Eds.) Logic, Language and Meaning: 17th Amsterdam Colloquium. LNAI/FOLLI: Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Vol. 6042.

2010, Nouwen, Two kinds of modified numerals. Semantics and Pragmatics 3 (3).

2010, Nouwen, What’s in a Quantifier? In M. Everaert, T. Lentz, H. de Mulder, O. Nilsen and A. Zondervan (Eds.), The Linguistic Enterprise. Linguistik Aktuell 150. Benjamins. 2009.

2008, Nouwen, Two kinds of modified numerals. In T. Solstad and A. Riester (Eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 13.

2008, Nouwen, Upperbounded no more: the exhaustive interpretation of non-strict comparison. Natural Language Semantics 16(4).

2008, Nouwen, Directionality in Numeral Quantifiers: the Case of up to. Semantics and Linguistic Theory XVIII.

2008, Nouwen, Review of MacLaury, Paramei & Dedrick (eds), Anthropology of Color: Interdisciplinary multilevel modeling. Linguist List 19.2649 2007.

2007, Geurt & Nouwen, At least et al.: the semantics of scalar modifiers. Language 83(3), pp. 533-559.

2007, Nouwen, On appositives and dynamic binding. Research on Language and Computation 5(1), pp. 87-102.

2007, Nouwen, On Dependent Pronouns and Dynamic Semantics. Journal of Philosophical Logic 36(2), pp. 123-154.

2006, Nouwen, Remarks on the polar orientation of almost. In van de Weijer, J. and Los, B. (Eds.), Linguistics in the Netherlands, AvT publications 23, Benjamins.

2005, Nouwen, Monotone Amazement. In Dekker, Paul and Franke, Michael (Eds.), Proceedings of the Fifteenth Amsterdam Colloquium,  ILLC, pp. 167-172.

2005, Nouwen, Review of Bert Bultinck, Numerous Meanings, the meaning of English cardinals and the legacy of Paul Grice. Linguist List 16.3586

2005, Nouwen, Review of (Noveck and Sperber eds.) `Experimental Pragmatics’. Linguist List 16.1518

2004, Nouwen, On Dependency and Quantification in Dynamic Semantics. In: Hasida Koiti and Nitta Katsumi (Eds.), New Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence: Joint Proceedings of the 17th and 18th Annual Conference of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Springer Verlag.

2003, Nouwen, Complement Anaphora and Interpretation. Journal of Semantics, 20.1, p.73-113


Sinn und Bedeutung. Edited with Ana Aguilar and Anna Chernilowskaya. MIT working papers in linguistics. (In progress). 2011. Linguistics in the Netherlands. Edited with Marion Elenbaas. AvT Publications 28. 2011. Vagueness in Communication. Edited with Robert van Rooij, Uli Sauerland and Hans-Christian Schmitz. LNCS/LNAI FOLLI Publications. 2010. Linguistics in the Netherlands. Edited with Jacqueline van Kampen. AvT Publications 27. 2008. Syntax and Semantics of Spatial P. Edited with Anna Asbury, Jakub Dotlacil and Berit Gehrke. Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 120. Benjamins. 2003. Plural pronominal anaphora in context. LOT publications 84. PhD thesis, Utrecht Institute for Linguistics OTS.