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Indiana University Bloomington


Kai von Fintel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA)
How To Do Conditional Things With Words
When one asserts a conditional sentence ("if Alex left, Brianna left as well"), when one issues a conditional imperative ("if Charlotte calls, tell her I'm not here!"), when one proposes a conditional bet ("if the die comes up with an even number, I bet it'll be a six"), when one asks a conditional question ("if Dana visits, what should we have for dinner?") are we looking at an unconditional speech act with a conditional content, or at a conditional speech act? I will argue that at least some such cases are indeed conditional speech acts. I set out to provide a compositional, formal analysis of such conditional speech acts. This is not trivial: the theories of conditional sentences that are prevalent in formal semantics and the theories of speech acts prevalent in formal pragmatics do not easily combine to explain the phenomenon of conditional speech acts. We will have to revise both ingredient theories a bit to make them fit together productively. What emerges is a new typology of conditional constructions.

Susan Herring
, Indiana University (USA)
The Pragmatics of Robot-Mediated Communication
Telepresence robots are a technology that mediates human–human communication, much like video conferencing mediates talk between geographically-distant interlocutors, or like graphical avatars mediate communication in virtual worlds, except that the interlocutors have robot avatars that can move about in physical space. Telepresence robot-mediated communication (RMC) is becoming increasingly prevalent and relevant as telepresence robots come into more common use in industry, education, healthcare, and other domains (Herring, 2016). In this talk, I describe first attempts to study language use and social interaction in RMC. In so doing, I consider the question: What can the study of RMC learn from, and contribute to, computer-mediated communication (CMC) research?
I conceptualize RMC as a synchronous, speech-based mode of multimodal CMC, and argue for its theoretical importance as a mode that casts new light on CMC itself. I then propose a framework for analyzing RMC from a pragma-linguistic perspective adapted from Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis (Herring, 2004), a paradigm originally developed for the analysis of textual CMC. I illustrate the application of this paradigm with data collected in a mock job interview study involving students interacting with an experimenter in two conditions: piloting a Beam+ telepresence robot, and face-to-face. The students were primed with three different metaphors for the experimenter: a robot, a normal human, and a human with physical limitations, following Takayama and Go (2012), who found that people have different metaphors for telepresence robots, and that many people in their study thought of the robots as humans with disabilities (lacking arms, the robots are unable to open doors, move objects about, etc.). Pragmatic and interactional features including politeness, turn length, gaze, and laughter are compared in the two conditions and the three metaphors, and the implications of the findings are discussed. In concluding, I point out further avenues of pragmatics research that open up when RMC is considered through the lens of the proposed robot-mediated discourse analysis (RMDA) paradigm.

Stephen Neale, Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY) (USA)
The Formatics and Pragmatics of Silent Reference
Gaining an understanding of the systematically different ways in which we are able to refer to things without using words that refer to those things has a number of important benefits. Firstly, it reveals deep fault lines in traditional theories of reference (of the sort that have dominated philosophy since Frege and Russell, and thereby come to dominate the study of compositional semantics in linguistics). Secondly, it reveals the wholly intentional nature of reference and thereby (a) exposes the hollowness of classical appeals to context as something that constitutively determines (contributes to) communicative content, but at the same time (b) drills home the fact that context nonetheless plays vital formatic and pragmatic roles: it massively constrains the formation of the speaker’s communicative intentions (in roughly Grice’s sense) via the role the speaker expects it to play in the hearer’s pragmatic identification of such intentions. Thirdly, it shows how to make sense of the idea (flatly rejected by semanticists) that the only notion of reference a compositional semantics needs is a notion of speaker reference that can be defined without remainder in terms of communicative intentions. Fourthly, it reveals the maddeningly interwoven nature of syntactic, semantic, epistemic, and metaphysical questions that need to be answered if we are to make sense of the idea that there aphonic referring expressions. Fifthly, it provides a glimpse of one type of formatic-pragmatic laboratory we can construct for systematic investigations of the myriad ways in which properties of words and sentences fall short of providing communicative content.


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