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Profile: Kai von Fintel (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  1. Kai von Fintel, Anatomy of a Modal Construction.
    We show that the morphosyntactic makeup of the SMC is crosslinguistically stable. We show that the semantics of the construction poses a severe compositionality problem. We solve the problem by giving the negation and the exclusive operator differential scope. For only, this means decomposing it into negation and an exclusive other than component.
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  2. Kai von Fintel, Conditional Strengthening.
    (i) Inferences from the (assumed) truth of the asserted sentence. Hearers may have conditional beliefs (if p, q) and upon hearing p asserted they can infer q by Modus Ponens (with suitable caveats about the reliability of their initial conditional belief and the new information that p).
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  3. Kai von Fintel, Dynamic Context.
    A primary goal of research in the semantics/pragmatics interface is to investigate the division of labor between the truth-conditional component of the meaning of an expression and other factors of a more pragmatic nature. One favorite strategy, associated foremost with Grice (1967, 1989), is to keep to a rather austere semantics and to derive the overall meaning of an utterance by predictable additional inferences, called ``implicatures,'' which are seen as based on certain principles of rational and purposeful interaction. In this (...)
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  4. Kai von Fintel, Epistemic Modals: A Linguistic Perspective.
    Expressions of epistemic modality mark the possibility/necessity of the prejacent proposition relative to some body of evidence/knowledge.
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  5. Kai von Fintel, How Multi-Dimensional is Quotation?
    dimensions. As a commenter, I should probably concentrate on the central claim and, if possible, probe its solidity. So, that’s what I’ll be doing.
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  6. Kai von Fintel, Postscript to “Whatever” {Comments on Condoravdi}.
    Condoravdi shows that the ignorance component is not a presupposition: • Ignorance is not signalled as taken for granted • No presupposition denial • No presupposition filtering So, what else could I have reached for in 2000? Not much, because I tend to buy my tools on the open market rather than develop them myself.
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  7. Kai von Fintel, Quantifier Domain Selection and Pseudo-Scope.
    * This work has been evolving for a while now. Some parts trace back to the few pages on the context-dependency of quantifiers in my dissertation. Reading Recanati’s paper on domains of discourse made me rethink some of my earlier conclusions without in the end actually changing them much. Other parts formed the material for several discussions in my seminar on context-dependency at MIT in the fall of 1995, which included several sessions exploring the issues raised in an early version (...)
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  8. Kai von Fintel, The Biggest Little Word.
    After cataloguing various ‘improper’ sense of only, those which are taken with restricted scope (‘no more than [within a fixed domain]’) as opposed to the purely exclusive ‘proper’ sense, Ockham (1980:137) remarks that These are the senses, then, in which the exclusive expression can be taken improperly. And perhaps there are still other senses in which it can be taken improperly. But since they are not as widely used as the ones we have dealt with, I will leave them to (...)
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  9. Kai von Fintel, Tense in Conditionals.
    ∗ These are preliminary notes for a future chapter of a book I am writing, which is going to be a linguistic guide to conditionals. I would be appreciate all the help I can get. I already have Sabine Iatridou and Michela Ippolito to thank, who both know much more about tense and tense in conditionals than I will ever know. I also need to acknowledge my admiration for Jonathan Bennett and his amazingly nutritious Philosophical Guide to Conditionals. Lastly, (...)
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  10. Kai von Fintel, 2. An Opinionated Guide to Epistemic Modality and Anthony S. Gillies Introduction.
    way on the information available in the contexts in which they are used, it’s not surprising that there is a minor but growing industry of work in semantics and the philosophy of language concerned with the precise nature of the context-dependency of epistemically modalized sentences. Take, for instance, an epistemic might-claim like..
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  11. Kai von Fintel, Anatomy of a Modal.
    What do we convey with (2)? We somehow manage to say at least the following: going to the North End is (part of ) a way of finding good cheese and going to the North End is relatively easy. Furthermore, we are leaving it open whether there are other places (in Boston) to get good cheese, that is, with (2) we are not claiming that the North End is the only place to find good cheese.
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  12. Kai von Fintel, Amount Relatives and the Meaning of Chains.
    The relative clause specifies the amount/number of books referred to. It functions as a cardinality modifier. It denotes the number of books on the table. The noun books moves from the RC-internal position into the external head position. We will see that it is semantically active in both positions!
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  13. Kai von Fintel, 65. Conditionals.
    This article introduces the classic accounts of the meaning of conditionals (material implication, strict implication, variably strict conditional) and discusses the difference between indicative and subjunctive/counterfactual conditionals. Then, the restrictor analysis of Lewis/Kratzer/Heim is introduced as a theory of how conditional meanings come about compositionally: if has no meaning other than serving to mark the restriction to an operator elsewhere in the conditional construction. Some recent alternatives to the restrictor analysis are sketched. Lastly, the interactions of conditionals (i) with modality (...)
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  14. Kai von Fintel, Comments on Kaufmann.
    Scientists have made new discoveries about a strange low-level disease. The disease is highly correlated with a particularly gene. 25% of the population has this gene. 90% of those with the gene develop the disease. Among the 75% majority, on the other hand, only 10% develop the disease. There is also a mysterious skin rash which can only occur in people who have the disease. Among the people who have the gene and develop the disease, 90% show the rash. Among (...)
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  15. Kai von Fintel, How to Count Situations (Notes Towards a User's Manual).
    Author’s Note These notes expand on remarks in my paper “A Minimal Theory of Adverbial Quantification” about the difficulties with counting situations. In May 1997, I talked about this topic in an MIT seminar on events co-taught with Irene Heim. These are the slightly updated class notes from that seminar. I have no new thoughts on the issues, but perhaps these notes are still useful. [References still to be added – for now I just appended an old list of references (...)
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  16. Kai von Fintel, How to Say Ought in Foreign: The Composition of Weak Necessity Modals.
    1 This paper has been presented at the workshop “Time and Modality: A Round Table on Tense, Mood, and Modality”, Paris, December 2005, at a CUNY linguistics colloquium in May 2006, and at the 6th Workshop on Formal Linguistics in Florian´opolis, Brazil, August 2006. We thank the audiences at those presentations, in particular Orin Percus, Tim Stowell, Marcel den Dikken, Anna Szabolcsi, Chris Warnasch, Roberta Pires de Oliveira, Renato Miguel Basso, and Ana M¨uller. We thank Noam Chomsky, Cleo Condoravdi, and (...)
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  17. Kai von Fintel, If and When If -Clauses Can Restrict Quantifiers.
    The interpretation of if -clauses in the scope of ordinary quantifiers has provoked semanticists into extraordinary measures, such as abandoning compositionality or claiming that if has no meaning. We argue that if -clauses have a normal conditional meaning, even in the scope of ordinary quantifiers, and that the trick is to have the right semantics for conditionals.
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  18. Kai von Fintel, If is the Biggest Little Word.
    Plenary talk (”If is the Biggest Little Word”) at the Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics (GURT), March 8-11, 2007, Washington, DC.
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  19. Kai von Fintel, More on Lousy Teachers and Beautiful Dancers.
    Standard assumption: lousy must be an intensional adjective (i.e. it takes the intension of its noun as its argument). BUT: we have not seen a credible meaning for lousy of this type, and it seems the McConnell-Ginet/Larson suspicion is quite right that there couldn’t be such a meaning.
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  20. Kai von Fintel, Since Since.
    Our discussion is couched within a compositional implementation of the analysis of the Perfect developed by Iatridou et.al. (a version of Extended Now of McCoard 78, Dowty 72, 79). The basics.
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  21. Kai von Fintel, The Presupposition of Subjunctive Conditionals.
    Why are some conditionals subjunctive? It is often assumed that at least one crucial difference is that subjunctive conditionals presuppose that their antecedent is false, that they are counterfactual (Lakoff 1970). The traditional theory has apparently been refuted. Perhaps the clearest counter-example is one given by Alan Anderson (1951: 37): If Jones had taken arsenic, he would have shown just exactly those symptoms which he does in fact show. A typical place to use such a subjunctive conditional would be in (...)
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  22. Kai von Fintel, Whatever.
    Our immediate intuition about (1) is that –ever indicates speaker’s ignorance. We hear the speaker as signaling that she doesn’t know what Arlo is cooking, while at the same time asserting that no matter what Arlo is cooking, there’s a lot of garlic in it. The FR without –ever in (2) carries no such signal of ignorance.
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  23. Kai von Fintel, What is Presupposition Accommodation?
    In his paper “What is a Context of Utterance?”, Christopher Gauker (1998) argues that the phenomenon of informative presuppositions is incompatible with the “pragmatic” view of presuppositions as involving requirements on the common ground, the body of shared assumptions of the participants in a conversation. This is a surprising claim since most proponents of this view have in fact dealt with informative presuppositions by appealing to a process called presupposition accommodation. Gauker’s attack shows the need to clarify the nature of (...)
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  24. Kai von Fintel, What to Do If You Want to Go to Harlem: Anankastic Conditionals and Related Matters.
    At first glance, this is an entirely unremarkable kind of sentence. It is easy to find naturally occuring exponents. Its meaning is also clear: taking the A train is a necessary condition for going to Harlem. Hence the term “anankastic conditional”, Ananke being the Greek protogonos of inevitability, compulsion and necessity.
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  25. Kai von Fintel & Anthony S. Gillies, Hedging Your Ifs and Vice Versa.
    “Any theory of conditionals has consequences for less-than-certain judgements. Something is proposed of the form: If A, B is true iff A*B. If a clear-headed person, free from confusions of a logical, linguistic or referential sort, can be nearly sure that A*B yet far from sure that if A, B, or vice versa, then this is strong evidence against the proposal.” (Edgington 1995/2007).
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  26. Kai von Fintel & Anthony S. Gillies, The Subjectivity of Conditionals in a New Light.
    Sly Pete and Mr. Stone are playing poker on a Mississippi riverboat. It is now up to Pete to call or fold. My henchman Zack sees Stone’s hand, which is quite good, and signals its content to Pete. My henchman Jack sees both hands, and sees that Pete’s hand is rather low, so that Stone’s is the winning hand. At this point, the room is cleared. A few minutes later, Zack slips me a note which says “If Pete called, he (...)
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  27. Kai von Fintel & Lisa Matthewson, Universals in Semantics.
    This article surveys the state of the art in the field of semantic universals. We examine potential semantic universals in three areas: (i) the lexicon, (ii) semantic “glue” (functional morphemes and composition principles), and (iii) pragmatics. At the level of the lexicon, we find remarkably few convincing semantic universals. At the level of functional morphemes and composition principles, we discuss a number of promising constraints, most of which require further empirical testing and/or refinement. In the realm of pragmatics, we predict (...)
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  28. Kai von Fintel (2012). Kai von Fintel. In Gillian Russell Delia Graff Fara (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Language. Routledge.
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  29. Kai von Fintel & Anthony S. Gillies (2010). Must . . . Stay . . . Strong! Natural Language Semantics 18 (4):351-383.
    It is a recurring mantra that epistemic must creates a statement that is weaker than the corresponding flat-footed assertion: It must be raining vs. It’s raining. Contrary to classic discussions of the phenomenon such as by Karttunen, Kratzer, and Veltman, we argue that instead of having a weak semantics, must presupposes the presence of an indirect inference or deduction rather than of a direct observation. This is independent of the strength of the claim being made. Epistemic must is therefore quite (...)
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  30. Kai von Fintel & Anthony S. Gillies (2009). `Might' Made Right. In Andy Egan & Brian Weatherson (eds.), Epistemic Modality. Oxford University Press.
    The simplest story about modals—might, must, possibly, necessary, have to, can, ought to, presumably, likelier, and the rest—is also the canon: modals are context-dependent quantifiers over a domain of possibilities. Different flavors of modality correspond to quantification over different domains of possibilities. Logical modalities quantify over all the possibilities there are, physical modalities over possibilities compatible with the..
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  31. Kai von Fintel (2008). What is Presupposition Accommodation, Again? Philosophical Perspectives 22 (1):137-170.
    In his paper “What is a Context of Utterance?”, Christopher Gauker (1998) argues that the phenomenon of informative presuppositions is incompatible with the “pragmatic” view of presuppositions as involving requirements on the common ground, the body of shared assumptions of the participants in a conversation. This is a surprising claim since most proponents of this view have in fact dealt with informative presuppositions by appealing to a process called presupposition accommodation. Gauker’s attack shows the need to clarify the nature of (...)
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  32. Kai von Fintel & Anthony S. Gillies (2008). CIA Leaks. Philosophical Review 117 (1):77-98.
    Epistemic modals are standardly taken to be context-dependent quantifiers over possibilities. Thus sentences containing them get truth-values with respect to both a context and an index. But some insist that this relativization is not relative enough: `might'-claims, they say, only get truth-values with respect to contexts, indices, and—the new wrinkle—points of assessment (hence, CIA). Here we argue against such "relativist" semantics. We begin with a sketch of the motivation for such theories and a generic formulation of them. Then we catalogue (...)
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  33. Kent Bach, Chris Barker, Kai von Fintel, Lyn Frazier, James Isaacs, Angelika Kratzer, Bill Ladusaw, Helen Majewski, Line Mikkelsen & Barbara Partee (2007). 12.1 Direct Compositionality Beyond the Sentence Level. In Chris Barker & Pauline I. Jacobson (eds.), Direct Compositionality. Oxford University Press. 405.
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  34. Kai von Fintel & Anthony S. Gillies (2007). An Opinionated Guide to Epistemic Modality. In Tamar Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Oxford Studies in Epistemology 2. Oxford. 32-62.
    way on the information available in the contexts in which they are used, it’s not surprising that there is a minor but growing industry of work in semantics and the philosophy of language concerned with the precise nature of the context-dependency of epistemically modalized sentences. Take, for instance, an epistemic might-claim like..
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  35. Kai Von Fintel (2006). Modality and Language. In D. Borchert (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Reference. 20-27.
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  36. Kai Von Fintel (2004). Comments on Beaver: Presupposition Accommodation and Quantifier Domains. In Hans Kamp & Barbara Hall Partee (eds.), Context-Dependence in the Analysis of Linguistic Meaning. Elsevier.
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  37. Kai Von Fintel (2004). Would You Believe It? The King of France is Back! Presuppositions and Truth-Value Intuitions. In Anne Bezuidenhout & Marga Reimer (eds.), Descriptions and Beyond. Oxford University Press.
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  38. Kai von Fintel (2004). Would You Believe It? The King of France is Back! (Presuppositions and Truth-Value Intuitions). In Marga Reimer & Anne Bezuidenhout (eds.), Descriptions and Beyond. Clarendon Press.
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  39. Kai von Fintel & Sabine Iatridou (2003). Epistemic Containment. Linguistic Inquiry 34:173-98.
    This article concerns a new constraint on the interaction of quantifier phrases and epistemic modals. It is argued that QPs cannot bind their traces across an epistemic modal, though it is shown that scoping mechanisms of a differentnature are permitted to cross epistemic modals. The nature and source of this constraint are investigated.
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  40. Oesten Dahl, Mary Dalrymple, Paul Dekker, Josh Dever, Walter Edelberg, Kai von Fintel, Gilles Fauconnier, Nissim Francez, Peter Gärdenfors & Bart Geurts (1999). 680 ACKNOWLEDGMENT Fiona Cowie Max Cresswell Mark Crimmins. Linguistics and Philosophy 22:679-680.
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  41. Kai von Fintel (1999). NPI Licensing, Strawson Entailment, and Context Dependency. Journal of Semantics 16 (2):97-148.
    The Fauconnier-Ladusaw analysis of negative polarity licensing (that NPIs are licensed in the scope of downward entailing operators) continues to be the benchmark theory of negative polarity. In this paper, I consider some of the moves that are needed to maintain its basic intuition in some recalcitrant arenas: negative polarity licensing by only, adversatives, superlatives, and conditionals. We will see that one has to (i) use a notion of entailment that I call Strawson Entailment, which deals with presuppositions in a (...)
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  42. Kai von Fintel (1998). Quantifiers and 'If'-Clauses. Philosophical Quarterly 48 (191):209-214.
    which he calls general indicatives, are correctly analysed as open indicative conditionals prefixed by universal quantifiers. So they are both analysed as (∀x)(if x gets a chance, x bungee-jumps), where x ranges over girls. This analysis is attributed to Geach.2 Barker then shows that this syntactic analysis, together with other premises, entails that the open conditional occurring under the universal quantifier has to be analysed as having the import of material implication.
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  43. Kai von Fintel (1997). Bare Plurals, Bare Conditionals, and Only. Journal of Semantics 14 (1):1-56.
    The compositional semantics of sentences like Only mammals give live birth and The flag flies only if the Queen is home is a tough problem. Evidence is presented to show that only here is modifying an underlying proposition (its ‘prejacent’). After discussing the semantics of only, the question of the proper interpretation of the prejacent is explored. It would be nice if the prejacent could be analyzed as having existential quantificational force. But that is difficult to maintain, since the prejacent (...)
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  44. Kai von Fintel (1994). Restrictions on Quantifier Domains. Dissertation, University of Massachusetts at Amherts
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  45. Kai von Fintel (1993). Exceptive Constructions. Natural Language Semantics 1 (2):123-148.
    For the first time a uniform compositional derivation is given for quantified sentences containing exceptive constructions. The semantics of exceptives is primarily one of subtraction from the domain of a quantifier. The crucial semantic difference between the highly grammaticized but-phrases and free exceptives is that the former have the Uniqueness Condition as part of their lexical meaning whereas the latter are mere set subtractors. Several empirical differences between the two types of exceptives are shown to follow from this basic lexical (...)
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  46. Kai von Fintel, Singleton Indefinites (Re. Schwarzschild 2000).
    Every member of the club was convinced that if a (particular) friend of his from Texas had died in the fire, he would have inherited a fortune.
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