An opinionated guide to the language of opinion

LoLa Introductoryweek 1 each day

Natasha Korotkova (University of Konstanz)
Pranav Anand (UC Santa Cruz)


Abstract: Subjective language has attracted substantial attention in the recent literature in formal semantics and philosophy of language. Most current theories argue that Subjective Predicates (SPs; "fun", "tasty", "beautiful", etc), which express matters of opinion, semantically differ from Ordinary Predicates (OPs; "round", "popular", "fermented", etc), which express matters of fact. We will call this view “SP exceptionalism”. This class is a focused examination of SP exceptionalism, the empirical motivation behind this view and various theoretical ways to implement it.

If you're planning to take this class, please fill out a very short questionnaire that will help us gauge the background of the class' participants:

The course is structured as follows, and all materials (slides & readings) can be found here:

Day 1 is an overview of the empirical landscape and a discussion of the distinguished linguistic profile of SPs, which led to SP exceptionalism in the first place: categorical vs. gradient notions of subjectivity, domains of subjective judgment (including personal taste), conversational behavior of SPs, empirical diagnostics of subjectivity at large.

Day 2 presents a taxonomy of existing theories, with a focus on the contextualism-relativism debate and ways to compositionally determine whose opinion is at stake in a particular environment (e.g. root declaratives, interrogatives, and attitudes).

Day 3 focuses on the behavior of subjective predicates in attitude environments. The most prominent reading of embedded SPs is one where they talk about the attitude holder’s subjective judgment. However, this reading is not the only one: embedded SPs may also talk about someone else’s, non-local, judgment. We demonstrate that the behavior of SPs in attitude reports does not differ from that of ordinary predicates and that this unexceptional behavior of SPs in fact has unexpected consequences for SP exceptionalism, as not all theories introduced on Day 2 can handle such data.

Day 4 is dedicated to the Acquaintance Inference (AI), a firsthand experience requirement associated with a subset of subjective predicates (I am only entitled to calling something "tasty" if I have tried it), and environments in which the AI can disappear. We will examine several approaches to the AI and argue that it is grounded in evidential restrictions.

Day 5 examines the so-called subjective attitudes, English verbs "find" and "consider", and their counterparts in other languages. Those verbs, which we will refer to as find-verbs, have been argued to only take complements that talk about matters of opinion, rather than fact, and thus can serve as one of the best diagnostics of subjectivity in language. We will talk about the types of complements find-verbs can take and argue that they come with an evidential requirement of their own, a fact that has to be taken into account in their semantics.