Research

Some (but not all) questions I’m interested in:

The acquisition of modals and its interaction with negation

Acquiring modal flavor
Modal auxiliaries like may and must can be used to express different ‘flavors’ of modality: for example, the sentence “You may enter now” can either mean that you are allowed to enter now (‘deontic’ flavor), or that it is possible given what is known that you enter now (‘epistemic’ flavor). The different interpretations available for a given modal depend on both syntactic and contextual factors. How does the child figure this out? To answer this question, I’m working on a corpus study with Annemarie van Dooren, Ailis Cournane and Valentine Hacquard (on English), whose goal is to identify the available cues in the input, focusing on the role of aspect. Preliminary results (presented at the 21st Amsterdam Colloquium) are available here.

Acquiring modal force
How do children figure out whether their modals express possibilities or necessities? This is not a trivial question, and comprehension studies suggest that they have problems picking up on force, accepting possibility modals in necessity contexts and necessity modals in possibility contexts. Several factors contribute to make force hard to identify from the input: one of the goals of our study is to identify which cues can help the learner. Poster presented at BUCLD43 is available here.

Crosslinguistic variation
Languages differ in how they express modals meanings. For now, my research focuses on English and French modals, but I’ve also taken preliminary steps into the description of the Kaqchikel modal system, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala, where I did fieldwork in summer 2017 thanks to the fieldstation managed by the Language Science Center.

Scalar Implicatures

Scalar implicatures and modals
Modals also give rise to Scalar Implicatures: in the same way as ‘some students passed the exam’ can be used to mean that not all of them did, ‘students can wear hats’ usually means that they don’t have to. What are the constraints on (Horn) scales? How are they acquired by the child? These are some other questions I intend to work on.

Primary and secondary implicature: deriving strong quantity implicatures
For my Master thesis, I worked on the distinction between primary and secondary scalar implicatures with Benjamin Spector and Emmanuel Chemla.
My master’s thesis (defended June 2015) is available here.
The paper (submitted December 2017) is available here.

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