Variable costs

David Beaver (The University of Texas at Austin, USA) and Kai von Fintel (MIT, USA)

This advanced course combines a swift introduction to issues in the analysis of context-dependency with an exploration of the metasemantics of free variables. Unbound pronouns as in “She’s gone on vacation” are standardly treated as fee variables. It is assumed that they receive a value based on contextual information. Using such a free variable pronoun incurs a debt: the context must provide a determinate value (Tonhauser et al. 2013: ‘Strong Contextual Felicity’). The device of free variables is also used extensively to capture other types of contextually filling in of information. This is a way of providing contextual glue to semantically underspecified combinations. Glue uses of free variables, like presuppositions more generally, are not uniformly subject to the strong contextual felicity constraint. We will motivate a taxonomy of the contextual effects of free variables and suggest some ways in which theories of semantics and pragmatics might capture the data.