07 February 2016

PhD positions and Postdocs in Amsterdam

There are a number of vacancies for PhD students and Postdocs in the inquisitive semantics group in Amsterdam. The projects are briefly described below. The deadline for applications is 15 March 2016, and the projects will start in the fall.

If you are interested in one of these positions, please get in touch with:

- Floris Roelofsen (floris.roelofsen@gmail.com)

- Ivano Ciardelli (i.a.ciardelli@uva.nl)

Project 1 (PhD, 4 years): First-order inquisitive logic

This project is intended for a PhD student with a background in logic.Intended starting date: 1 September 2016.Apply through the UvA website.

One important novelty of the inquisitive approach is that it brings out the fact that questions have an important role to play in logic. For instance, suppose we know that Alice and Bob live in the same city. Then, information about Alice’s city of residence yields information about Bob’s city of residence. In inquisitive logic, this takes the form of an entailment:

Alice and Bob live in the same city,   where Alice lives   |=   where Bob lives

Thus, in inquisitive logic we can reason not only, as usual, with particular pieces of information (e.g., that Alice and Bob live in the same city), but also with information types (e.g., Alice’s city of residence), which may be instantiated by multiple pieces of information (that Alice lives in Amsterdam, that Alice lives in Paris, etc). Thus, bringing questions into play leads to an exciting generalization of the fundamental notions of classical logic.

The aim of the project is to explore the consequences of this new perspective, carrying out a thorough investigation of first-order inquisitive logic. What makes this especially urgent is that an extremely broad range of questions are expressible by means of a first-order logical language.
Understanding how to reason with these questions is not only important from a mathematical and philosophical point of view, but also stands to have impact in applications, since question entailment generalizes the notion of functional dependency which is central to database theory and dependence logic. Thus, an axiomatization result would provide effective methods to reason about first-order dependencies.

Project 2 (PhD, 4 years): An inquisitive perspective on quantification in natural language

This project is intended for a PhD student with a background in formal semantics.

Intended starting date: 1 September 2016.Apply through the UvA website.

On the standard view, quantifiers like every man and many students are treated as operators that map properties to truth-values. While this approach allows for an insightful characterization of quantifiers’ truth-conditional contribution, it also has some important limitations. First, interrogative quantifiers like which men and how many students are squarely beyond its scope. Second, even quantifiers like every man are problematic when they occur in questions. For instance, to interpret the question What did every man eat? as ‘for every man x, what did x eat?’, the quantifier needs to scope out of the question; but this is impossible, if its argument is required to be a property.

Inquisitive semantics suggests a simple shift in perspective that simultaneously addresses both these issues. It becomes possible to pursue an account of quantifiers that captures (i) their potential to generate inquisitive content, which is necessary to deal with interrogative quantifiers like which men, and (ii) their ability to propagate inquisitive content, which is necessary to deal with quantifiers scoping out of questions.

We also expect inquisitive semantics to enable us to decompose quantifiers into semantically more primitive parts. A key observation in this regard is that, across languages, quantifiers are often built up from question words. We aim to explain this connection and to show how the meaning of quantifiers can be derived in a systematic way from the inquisitive elements they contain.

Project 3 (Postdoc, ~2.5 years): Applications in computer science and experimental ratification

This project is intended for one or two Postdocs with a background in logic and/or formal semantics/pragmatics, preferably with a particular interest in one or both of the following: (i) computational applications of logic in computer science, in particular in database systems, (ii) experimental semantics/pragmatics.

Intended starting date: 1 September 2016.

Apply through the UvA website.

Inquisitive semantics has so far been used to shed new light on theoretical issues in semantics, pragmatics, logic, and philosophy of language. The aim of this project is to broaden this scope in two directions. First, we will explore practical applications of inquisitive logic in computer science, in particular in database systems. Suppose we have a database and we get a new query. Then instead of looking at the database itself, we may look at the already stored queries, and see whether they entail the new query (in the inquisitive sense). If so, it may be possible to resolve the new query without having to re-consult the database itself, with a substantial gain in efficiency. This is a widely used technique in database systems, but inquisitive logic may make it possible to deal with a much wider range of queries than current systems do.

Second, we want to carry out a number of experiments to corroborate the empirical predictions that are made by linguistic theories formulated in inquisitive semantics, and to further develop these theories guided by the obtained empirical results. Relevant phenomena include (but are not restricted to) the interpretation of disjunction, questions, question-embedding verbs, and other operators that arguably generate and/or propagate inquisitive content, such as quantifiers, modals, and conditionals.

Project 4 (Postdoc, ~2.5 years): A fully compositional dynamic inquisitive semantics

This project is intended for a Postdoc with a background in formal semantics, preferably with a particular interest in compositionality and dynamic semantics.

Intended starting date: 1 October 2016.

Apply through the UvA website.

Most work on inquisitive semantics so far has focused on InqB, the inquisitive counterpart of classical first-order logic. In order to obtain a full-fledged inquisitive framework for natural language semantics, this basic system needs to be extended in two ways. First, we need to allow for meaning composition at the sub-sentential level. Second, we need to capture dynamic aspects of meaning, e.g., cross- and inter-sentential anaphoric dependencies and presuppositions. The goal of this project is to develop a fully compositional dynamic inquisitive semantics, and to apply this framework to a number of linguistic phenomena involving inquisitiveness below and beyond the sentence boundary.