Logo Utrecht University

UiL-OTS Colloquium


19 February 2015
15:30 - 17:00
Academiegebouw, Kanunikkenzaal

Yoad Winter

Predicates that behave like quantifiers – the case of lexical reciprocity

Universiteit Utrecht, UiL-OTS

One of the biggest challenges for semantic theory is to distinguish predicates from quantifiers. Here are some typical puzzles of this sort:

  • Generics: do sentences like “dogs bark” involve predication over a “kind” or quantification over individuals? [Carlson & Pelletier 1995]
  • Distributivity: do sentences like “the dogs barked” involve predication over a plurality or quantification over singularities? [De Vries 2015]
  • Locative indefinites: do constructions like “far from a gas station” involve predication over a location or quantification over entities? [Mador-Haim & Winter 2015]

In this talk I will address another challenge of this sort, suggest a solution, and put it in the large context of the tension between formalism and lexicalism in semantics. My main claim is that lexical accounts are often advantageous to formal ones. This opens up exciting new areas of research on concepts, relevant for both linguists and psychologists.

The case of lexical reciprocity. Predicates like “meet”, ”cousin”, and ”similar” have a unary guise and a binary guise, roughly related through reciprocity (Dimitriadis 2008). For instance, “A and B met” means more or less the same as “A and B met each other”. How should ‘more or less’ be analyzed? Is one of the two meanings derived from the other? If so, how, and which one of them is basic? In a new theory of this alternation, I will classify two lexical semantic types of ‘reciprocity’. In one type, binary predicates are lexically derived from collective ones by a logical rule. In another type, the alternation is analyzed by Searle’s (1990) notion of *collective intentionality*. The proposal generalizes an old observation that sentences like “A,B and C agree” are irreducible to reciprocal quantification. Further, it illuminates the familiar but previously unruly connections between lexical reciprocity and logical symmetry. Finally, new Hebrew data show advantages of our lexical approach over derivational analyses of reciprocal comitatives.


Carlson, G. N. & Pelletier, F. J. (1995), The Generic Book, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
De Vries, H. (2015), Shifting Sets, Hidden Atoms: the semantics of distributivity, plurality and animacy, PhD thesis, Utrecht University. in prep.
Dimitriadis, A. (2008), Irreducible symmetry in reciprocal constructions, in E. Konig & V. Gast, ed., `Reciprocals and Reflexives: Theoretical and Typological Explorations’. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin.
Mador-Haim, S. & Winter, Y. (2015), Far from obvious: the semantics of locative indefinites. To appear in Linguistics & Philosophy.
Searle, J. R. (1990), Collective intentions and actions, in P. R. Cohen, J. Morgan & M. E. Pollack, eds, `Intentions in communication’, pp. 401-416. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.