The seminar will meet irregularly and will be announce on this page and via cognition@ILLC mailing list.  In addition to the seminar, we have a regular reading group that meets bi-weekly.  If you would like to be notified of updates for that group, please e-mail Shane Steinert-Threlkeld: S.N.M.Steinert-Threlkeld (AT)

16.11.2017: Galit Agmon

Time and location: 11.30-13.00, PC Hoofthuis 6.05

Title: Processing downward monotonicity in natural language.

Abstract: “A small number of circles are blue” and “few circles are blue” seem to convey the same meaning – that the quantity of blue circles is below some contextual criterion. Moreover, both contain a negative degree element (“few” as the negative of “many”; “small” as the negative of “large”). However, “few” is downward monotone while “a small number” is not. Downward Monotonicity is a formal logical property of certain linguistic expressions, but is it also cognitively relevant for language processing? In this talk I will present evidence for cognitive correlates of downward monotonicity, by presenting results of RT and fMRI experiments that compare e.g. “few” to “a small number”, and argue that the cognitive complexity of downward monotonicity is part of the mental representation of the sentence.

25.04.2017: Fabian Schlotterbeck

Time and location: 15-17, PC Hoofthuis 6.26

Title: Towards a general model of the processing difficulty of quantified sentences.

Abstract: Distinct aspects of the processing of quantifiers were largely studied separately in the past and thus a comprehensive model is lacking. For example, many psycholinguistic studies focused on Aristotelian quantifiers separately from other types of quantifiers, e.g. numerical or proportional ones. Similarly, in much recent work, processes involved in the verification of quantifiers were studied independently of other processes like, e.g., comprehension. In my second talk, I will continue the integrative approach of the first one but with a broader empirical focus. I will discuss diverse empirical findings that a comprehensive processing model of quantification would have to accommodate. Moreover, I will discuss whether and how existing theoretical models may be integrated into a general one. Among other things, two specific aspects will be discussed in some detail: The first is the relation between comprehension and verification of quantified sentences. The second is an empirical phenomenon which Bott et al. (2013, under review) have found in a range of different types of quantifiers and which they have dubbed ’empty-set effect.’


Bott, O., Klein, U., & Schlotterbeck, F. (2013). Witness Sets, Polarity Reversal and the Processing of Quantified Sentences. In Proceedings of the Amsterdam Colloquium 2013 (pp. 59–66).

Bott, O., Schlotterbeck, F. & Klein, U. (under review). Empty set effects in quantifier interpretation. Submitted to Journal of Semantics

24.04.2017: Fabian Schlotterbeck

Time and location: 11-13, ILLC, F1.15

Title: Empirical evaluation of various approaches to the processing difficulty of quantified sentences and an integrated processing model of comparative modified numerals.

Abstract: One particularly interesting fact about the processing of quantifiers is that this seemingly uniform class of expressions exhibits considerable variation in how difficult they are to process. Several approaches to characterizing the processing difficulty of individual quantifiers have emerged in recent years. With regard to verification – as opposed to comprehension, for example – the most influential are (1) automata theoretic approaches, (2) logical-form based approaches and (3) approaches based on the interface transparency thesis, which posits a transparent relationship between semantic representations and the verification procedures that are actually realized within the cognitive architecture. In my talk, I will evaluate these approaches and their predictions against experimental data from the literature as well as from my own work. I will focus on two specific test cases. The first are quantified reciprocal sentences, like, e.g., ‘most dots are directly connected to each other,’ which, depending on the quantifier, may differ in computational complexity (Szymanik 2010). The second are upward vs. downward entailing comparative modified numerals, like, e.g., ‘more’ vs. ‘fewer than five,’ which are commonly observed to differ in processing difficulty (Koster-Moeller, Varvoutis & Hackl 2008). Concerning the latter, a processing model for sentence-picture verification is proposed that integrates key insights of the above-mentioned approaches. Moreover, experimental data are presented that confirm predictions of this integrated processing model.


Koster-Moeller, J., Varvoutis, J. & Hackl, M. (2008). Verification procedures for modified numeral quantifiers. In Proceedings of the 27th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (pp. 210–317), Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Szymanik, J. (2010). Computational complexity of polyadic lifts of generalized quantifiers in natural language, Linguistics and Philosophy, 33(3), 215–250.