• Semester: Spring 2022
  • Instructor: Camp, Elisabeth | Egan, Andy
  • Description:

    Phil of Language: Keeping track of conversations: Scoreboards, Semantics and Psychology

    Chris BarkerLiz Camp, and Andy Egan

    In this course we'll be concerned with questions about what kinds of theoretical resources we need in order to characterize states of conversations, and ways in which states of conversations evolve in response to various actions (especially utterances) by participants in the conversation.

    One theme will be the attractions and limitations of "flat" models, according to which all we need is information, and in particular information that can be represented with a set of possible worlds. (Rather than something more dynamic or more complex.)

    Another theme will be the relation(s) between the objects that we use to characterize conversational states and linguistic meanings and the psychological states of participants, speakers, and hearers.

    Another theme will be questions about what line of work semantic theories are in: which phenomena are they properly accountable to? Which phenomena should we be trying to model with semantic theories? Why?

    Some more specific questions and problems we'll look at:

    • Updates that don't alter which possibilities are in the context set.
    • Variations in the conversational status of different kinds of updates.
    • Updates that aren't fixed by composition on conventional meaning.
    • What kinds of connections between theory and... something else (psychological states of speakers? of hearers? something more complicated?)... ground the scope and explanatory relevance of linguistic theories? Semantic theories? Which details of those theories do they affect?

    Course Expectations

    All participants must do the reading and post a comment/question on the class forum in advance of the class meeting. The post must discuss something you genuinely don’t understand, and should be anchored in a specific part of the text. (Not a fancy counterexample or a general rant.)


    • Research option: 25 page response paper.
    • Non-research option: 6 page focused point or squib.
    • Auditors are welcome, and are expected to do the reading and post comment/questions.

    Course Location

    The course is sponsored jointly by the Philosophy department at Rutgers New Brunswick and the Linguistics department at NYU. We will meet from 11:00 to 1:45 on Wednesdays, alternating between NYU, where we'll meet in room 103 at 10 Washington Place (the Linguistics building) and Rutgers, where we'll meet in the seminar room on the 5th floor of 106 Somerset Street (in the philosophy department). Both universities require vaccination for attendance, and require participants (registered or not) to complete forms verifying compliance.

    Zoom stance: We strongly prefer in-person conversation, and hope and expect that participants will attend class physically when possible. That said, we recognize that some people will find it challenging to migrate between campuses. Please talk to us in advance to discuss virtual arrangements.

  • Credits: 3
  • Syllabus Disclaimer: The information on this syllabus is subject to change. For up-to-date course information, please refer to the syllabus on your course site (e.g. Canvas) on the first day of class.