postdoctoral researcher at Universität Tübingen
PhD granted by MIT in the summer of 2013
University of Tübingen
Institute of Linguistics
72074 Tübingen, Germany
igor.yanovich at uni-tuebingen dot de
Curriculum Vitae (pdf)
My primary specialization is in formal semantics. Some of my semantic projects also involve philosophy of language, mathematical logic, historical linguistics and corpus linguistics. My dissertation is on modality. The recent and ongoing projects on modality that are not a part of the dissertation are described here. Over the years, I have also worked on expressive power of backwards-looking operators like "now", de re attitudes, gender presuppositions of anaphoric pronouns, and indefinites.
From Oct 2013 to Jan 2014, I work a postdoc in the EVOLAEMP project led by Gerhard Jäger. The overall aim of the project is to develop robust computational methods for analyzing language genetic relationships. My current subproject within EVOLAEMP is to investigate whether inflectional and derivational paradigms may be extracted automatically, with no expert supervision, from raw text corpora with enough precision to use them for large-scale linguistic phylogeny recovery. If this is possible, that would be an improvement on the current methodologies which involve comparison of individual dictionary forms of cognate words rather than of full paradigms.
Since Feb 2014, I will stay at the University of Tübingen working on a 1.5-year project on automatic recovery of information interesting for formal semanticists from relatively small-sized corpora of historical data and of underrepresented languages. The project is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt foundation.
My fascination with modern phonology led me to do some work on mathematical Optimality Theory and, with Donca Steriade, on Base Priority effects in inflectional morphology on Ukrainian and Russian data.
Selected papers are described below, grouped by topic. The CV contains the full list.
Lecture handouts may be found here.
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 that, without their help and support over all my five years at MIT, I would not have grown into a linguist capable of conducting the projects reported in the dissertation. It is primarily thanks to Kai, Irene and Sabine that I learned to be guided by empirical data, trying to see beyond my current theoretical convictions, and also to be careful when drawing theoretical inferences from observed phenomena. 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 of things a teacher needs to know.
In this paper, I argue for distinguishing a novel modal flavor of symbouletic modality (< συμβoυλευω ‘advise’) — the modality of advice and suggestion. As symbouletic modality is often expressed by modals that also have deontic or teleological readings, it is not trivial to es- tablish its special character. Fortunately, Russian features modal stoit that is specialized for advice/suggestion uses. Using stoit as a convenient testing case, I propose a formal analysis of symbouletics within the framework for performative verbs and imperatives by Condoravdi and Lauer (2012), analyzing symbouletics as a kind of performatives.
In this short reply to Braun (2013), I provide an argument against his invariantist theory of might. Invariantism proposed by Braun aims to maintain full identity of semantic content between all uses of might. I invoke well-known facts regarding diachronic change in meanings of modals to argue that the invariantist view commits us to implausible duplication of familiar processes of lexical semantic change on the level of “lexical pragmatics”, with no obvious payoff.
In English, there is evidence for distinguishing "strong necessity" modals must and have to from "weak necessity" modals ought and should: the two groups of modals behave differently in several different empirical tests. Using data from Russian, I show that cross-linguistically this patterning of modals into weak and strong is an accident of English: the different tests for weak vs. strong necessity give discordant results for Russian modals, and not lead to a classification into two natural classes. Instead, several different properties cross-cut the modal space, and happen to mostly coincide for English modals.
In this paper, I describe the previously unnoticed phenomenon of Russian syntax: the ability of certain predicative adjectives with infinitival complements to appear in a pre-copula position. The resulting structure resembles the so-called "long head movement" structures of the West and South Slavic, and yet is crucially different in the Russian case in being completely optional.
At the same time, different predicative adjectives appear in the Adj-Aux-Inf order with different frequency. For example, a "more grammatical" adjective nuzhno 'necessary' appears in the Russian National Corpus 6.867 times with the "nuzhno Aux.past Inf" order, and only 86 times with the "Aux.past nuzhno Inf" order. But a "less grammatical" gotovyj 'ready' appears 1.104 times before the copula, and 3.884 times after it. This empirical distribution thus reflects the existence of a proto-category in Russian: adjectives like nuzhno do not currently form a syntactic category, but they could either form one in the past, or can potentially grammaticalize into one in the future.
This is an investigation into the expressive power over models that backwards-looking operators such as "now", "then" and "actually" add to the basic modal language. Contrary to popular belief in linguistics and philosophy, such operators do not push expressive power up to the level of explicit quantification over times and worlds.
(2011) How much expressive power is needed for natural language temporal indexicality? in Proceedings of WoLLIC 2011, LNAI 6642, Springer, pp. 293-309. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-20920-8_27. [preprint]
Superceded by "Expressive power of “now” and “then” operators".
(2010) Evaluation tree languages, abstract published in The Bulletin of Symbolic Logic, 17:2 (2011), p. 323. [presentation]
A stab at an analysis of context-sensitive modal operators, grown from earlier work on indexical presuppositions. Certain themes have been picked up in later work on backwards-looking operators, with much better technical precision.
Talk at the 2010 Logic Colloquium in Paris.
(2011) The problem of counterfactual de re attitudes in Proceedings of SALT 21, pp. 56–75.
I argue that counterfactual de re presents no analytical challenge (contra Ninan 2008) once it is analyzed as parasitic on beliefs. As an extra, a simple compositional way to derive de re readings is defined (see Sec. 2.3), not using covert concept generators, the movement of the res, or other syntactic entities not motivated by syntactic phenomena.
(2012) Indexical presuppositions of pronominal gender features [current version (July 2012)]
The paper shows that gender features on anaphoric pronouns trigger not regular presuppositions, but a peculiar set of restrictions on the context. Moreover, those restrictions only arise when pronouns refer to humans (which is harder to show in English, but is easy to observe in, e.g., Russian). I argue that the "presuppositions" of gender features are thus not a part of the compositional semantics, but instead the effects of a pragmatic rule of use for pronouns referring to humans.
(2012) What can Russian gender tell about the semantics of phi-features? (presented at FASL 21, Indiana University, May 2012) [presentation]
A conference-format presentation of the ideas here, with focus on data from Russian.
(2009) On the nature and formal analysis of indexical presuppositions, in Proceedings of LENLS 2009, LNAI 6284, Springer, pp. 272-291.
Superseded by this. The paper describes the peculiar projection pattern associated with gender features on English anaphoric pronouns, discusses the initial observations by Cooper (1983) capturing a part of that pattern, but forgotten in the later literature, and explains why conventional LF-semantics devices such as copying the antecedent's features or introducing special binding-theoretic rules for pronominal world variables cannot derive the observed facts.
The paper discusses the constraints on intermediate scope readings of some and a certain indefinites, and proposes a presuppositional analysis of those determiners.
The paper was presented at Sinn und Bedeutung 2007 in Oslo.
A short note discussing the semantics of Russian indefinites based on the adjectival root kakoj 'which'. Such indefinites are argued to be ambiguous between two readings, so that, e.g., kakoj-to is sometimes roughly synonymous with English 'some', and other times, with English 'of some kind'.
The paper proposes a choice-functional analysis of Russian indefinite series formed with -to and -nibud, and argues for a Hamblin analysis of bare indefinite roots in Russian.
The paper develops the theory of sets of rankings compatible with a particular tableau, and provides methods for computing such sets for arbitrary tableaux, allowing for lossless and monotonic incremental OT learning.
Many OT tableaux convey the same information about rankings, and operations preserving that information have been studied in Hayes (1997), Brasoveanu and Prince (2005), Prince (2006), a.o. The current paper defines a functionally complete set of elementary information-preserving transformations, and provides a computable test for OT tableau equivalence via normal form techniques. One corollary of the results is that Brasoveanu and Prince's Skeletal Basis tableaux are unique in their equivalence classes.
Superseded by the two papers above.
Standard cyclic effects in derivational morphology involve inheritance of properties of the base by the derived form. Using data from Ukrainian and Russian, we argue that the base word provides not just a single form, but rather all the forms in its paradigm for the derived item to choose from.
Stress patterns within nominal inflectional paradigms in East Slavic are notoriously complex, and in the case of Ukrainian and Belarussian, still understudied in the theoretical literature. We analyze stress in Ukrainian nominal paradigms, and argue that everything falls into place once we accept that the singular subparadigm serves as a collective base for the plural subparadigm. Thus, effects of Base Priority may be observed not only in derivational morphology, but also within inflectional paradigms.