Igor Yanovich

postdoctoral researcher at Universität Tübingen

University of Tübingen

Institute of Linguistics

Wilhelmstraße 19

72074 Tübingen, Germany

igor.yanovich at uni-tuebingen dot de

Curriculum Vitae (pdf)

Recent and upcoming talks


My specialization is in formal semantics. The empirical domain I am now primarily working on is modality. I have proposed new analyses of epistemic modality and weak necessity, and argued for recognizing new types of modals: symbouletic modals of suggestion, and a "collapse variable-force" modal in Old English. Currently I am particularly interested in how modal meanings change over time; how multiply ambiguous modal words function in everyday speech; and how the modal systems of languages in contact situations influence each other. Over the years, I have also worked on the expressive power of backwards-looking operators like "now", de re attitudes, gender presuppositions of anaphoric pronouns, and indefinites.

I am a part of an emerging interest group for historical semantics. The group is now working on establishing a yearly series of workshopы on formal-semantic approaches to semantic change. I took part in organizing the second workshop of the to-be series as a special session at Sinn und Bedeutung 2014. The puzzles in historical semantics are relatively easy to find, but the formal methods needed to solve those puzzles are only starting to be developed. In my own historical-semantic work, I trace semantic and syntactic changes at the level of decades, paying attention to the overall distribution of meanings across each synchronic span. That provides me with more fine-grained data than is usually used, and thus allows for discovering otherwise indiscernible patterns, such as a variable-force modal in Old English, or a newly emerged symbouletic modal in Modern Russian.

I am an associate member of the EVOLAEMP project in Tübingen, which applies bioinformatic and artificial intelligence techniques to the study of family relations between languages. In this line of work, namely linguistic computational phylogenetics, I recently received results which correct widely publicized claims of strong support of the Anatolian homeland for Indo-European from phylogenetic methods. I found out that when we amend some interpretation problems in the earlier methods, and add more non-controversial prior information using radiocarbon dating, the very same phylogenetic methods show strong support for the Pontic steppe homeland of Indo-European. I also developed a technique for estimating the robustness of cognacy-based phylogenetic analyses to errors stemming from the possible insufficiency of our dictionaries. In the longer run, I believe that phylogenetic methods may be adapted for studying the evolution of syntactic and semantic features, and not just relationships between languages.

Sometimes I also do phonology, which resulted in some new results in mathematical Optimality Theory, and finding out from Ukrainian and Russian data, with Donca Steriade, that Base Priority effects also work within inflectional paradigms.

Selected papers are described below, grouped by topic. The CV contains the full list.

Currently (winter semester 2014/15) I teach Corpus Methods in Theoretical Linguistics at the Tübingen University. I will be happy to share materials by email request. Older lecture handouts may be found here.

Modal logic
Counterfactual de re
Gender presuppositions of anaphoric pronouns
Base Priority effects and inflectional morphology
Mathematical Optimality Theory
Dissertation: Four pieces for modality, context and usage
My dissertation consisted of four largely independent chapters on the semantics of different modals united by the common methodology of studying modal statements with a focus on their extralinguistic, practical context, and their history in a language.

What is good in the dissertation would not have existed without my MIT teachers and advisors, who helped me become the researcher I am today. The direct influence of my dissertation advisors Kai von Fintel, Irene Heim and Sabine Iatridou on the text would be evident for the reader. But beyond the dissertation advising, without their help and support over all my five years at MIT, I would not have grown into a linguist I am now. It is very much thanks to Kai, Irene and Sabine that I learned to be guided by empirical data, be ready to see beyond my current theoretical convictions, and also to be cautious when drawing theoretical inferences from observed data. I am also very grateful to my other MIT teachers, especially to Adam Albright, who served as my registration advisor for all my time at MIT; Donca Steriade, who infected me with excitement about phonology; and Martin Hackl, who taught me a lot about what a teacher needs to know.

Teaching materials