Dr. Jacopo Romoli (Heinrich Heine Universität in Düsseldorf)
September 2, 2022
9:00 am

Dr. Jacopo Romoli (Heinrich Heine Universität in Düsseldorf)

“Children, Adults, and Choices”

Dr. Jacopo Romoli, Professor of Semantics at Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf

Friday, September 2, 2022, 9:00-10:30 am, in 127 Moore and via Zoom

Free choice presents a well-known puzzle in the semantics and pragmatics of modals and connectives in natural language, going back to Kamp (1974), among many others. In its classical form, the problem has to do with the interpretation of sentences with a disjunction embedded under a possibility modal. For instance, a sentence like “Kung Fu Panda can push either the green car or the orange car” strongly suggests that he can push the green car and he can push the orange one. In other words, it conveys that Kung Fu Panda can choose between the two cars. This conjunctive interpretation is surprising because it does not follow from the standard meaning of modals and disjunction, and is absent in the corresponding sentence without the modal (i.e. “Kung Fu Panda pushed the green car or the orange car” doesn’t at all suggest that he pushed both). There are different approaches to the problem of free choice, which, for our purposes, can be divided into two main camps: One based on implicatures and one not. The two approaches are quite successful in covering the basic empirical landscape related to free choice, but make different predictions in different areas. The processing and acquisition of free choice have been used as important testing grounds for those predictions. Dr. Romoli will go back to a study comparing free choice and implicatures with four 6-year-old children (Tieu et al. 2016), the results of which challenge the implicature approach to free choice. He will then discuss the main response in the literature to the challenge and will outline a further prediction it makes, having to do with non-classical configurations of free choice involving negated universal modals embedding conjunctions, such as “Kung Fu Panda doesn’t have to push both the blue car and the yellow car.” He will present a series of experiments testing this further prediction and the challenge coming from their results. Overall, experimental work and the comparison between children and adults’ behavior with free choice remains a critical perspective for refining our understanding of this fascinating long-standing puzzle.