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[Online talk] - Iconic Plurals

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In several sign languages, in some homesigns, and in some speech-replacing gestures, plurals can be marked by repetitions, with a distinction between punctuated and unpunctuated repetitions, which respectively come with precise and vague quantitative conditions (Pfau and Steinbach 2006, Coppola et al. 2013, Abner et al. 2015). Schlenker and Lamberton 2019 show that ASL plurals can have an irreducibly iconic component, e.g. an unpunctuated repetition of TROPHY arranged as a triangle may serve to refer to trophies with a triangular arrangement; but they took as primitive that repetitions serve to express plurals.

Here we provide an iconic semantics for the repetitions themselves, using the formal semantics for pictorial representations developed in Greenberg 2013. Simplifying somewhat: punctuated repetitions correspond to precise, ‘exactly’ quantitative conditions because they are easy to count; unpunctuated repetitions correspond to imprecise, ‘at least’ quantitative conditions because they are presented as hard to count and are blurry (vague) representations. Our analysis has three main modules: (i) a formal semantics for pictorial representations, (ii) a vagueness component (a simplified version of ‘tolerant’ approaches), and (iii) a mechanism of pragmatic exploitation (within a simplified RSA model), which is essential to obtain ‘at least’ readings for unpunctuated repetitions.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Linguistics Forum series.

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