CeLM Talk: Tuesday 1st Dec

The following CeLM talk will be of interest to CCR members:
Stephen Politzer-Ahles
University of Oxford
How does the brain understand what people mean (when they don’t say it)?
Language comprehension involves understanding messages that are implied but not explicitly said. For example, “Sue ate some of the donuts” is often understood to mean that Sue did not eat all of the donuts, even though this is not part of the literal semantic meaning expressed by the utterance. The “not all” interpretation is traditionally thought to result from Gricean reasoning: if Sue had eaten all of the donuts, the speaker would have said she ate all of them; so since the speaker didn’t say that, Sue must not have eaten all of them. How do language users realize unsaid aspects of meaning, and how does the brain carry out this process? In this talk I will present brain and behavioral evidence that 1) the brain processes unsaid, inference-based meaning differently than literal semantic meaning; and 2) the brain can realize unsaid, inference-based meanings rapidly and effortlessly.
When: 2-4pm, Tuesday 1st December
Where: AGRIC 1L14

Second ‘Pervasive Context’ conference, 25th-26th June 2016

The second AHRC research network conference on ‘Pervasive Context’, organised jointly by the Philosophy Departments of the University of Reading and Peking University, together with the Reading Centre for Cognition Research, will be held at the University of Reading, UK, on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th June 2016. The full list of speakers is as follows:

  • Jumbly Grindrod, Philosophy, University of Reading
  • Qilin Li, Philosophy, Peking University.
  • Eliot Michaelson, Philosophy, King’s College London.
  • Nausicaä Pouscoulous, Linguistics, University College London.
  • Luca Sbordone, Linguistics, Cambridge University.
  • Robert Stainton, Philosophy, University of Western Ontario.
  • Josef Stern, Philosophy, University of Chicago.
  • Dan Zeman, University of the Basque Country.

Registration  details will be published on the Pervasive Context webpage early in 2016; all welcome!

1st AHRC Pervasive Context Conference: Beijing 24th and 25th October 2015

Two members of CCR, Emma Borg and Nat Hansen, have recently returned from Beijing, where, in collaboration with colleagues Prof. YE Chuang and Dr. LI Qilin at Peking University, they were hosting the first conference held under the auspices of ‘Pervasive Context’ – an AHRC funded international research network. The objective of the network is to explore the way in which features of a context of utterance can influence linguistic or communicated content and the network had already held a number of virtual meetings during 2014-15, but this conference was the first chance for everyone to get together in person. Emma and Nat had a fantastic time in China and were overwhelmed by the generosity and enthusiasm of their hosts. Photos from Beijing conference can be seen at:


The week started with a two and half hour masterclass by Emma on 20th October. The topic was ‘Semantic minimalism and other theories’ and Emma laid out what is at stake between different accounts of the relationship between meaning and context, and tried to show why one might (perhaps) be attracted to so-called ‘minimal semantics’ (the position Emma has argued for in two OUP monographs). Later in the week (on the 23rd), Nat gave his masterclass on ‘Contextualism: Evidence and Explanations’ which introduced debates concerning the empirical foundation of the contextualism-minimalism debate and discussed recent experiments that confirm contextualist judgments about the effects of context on truth value judgments. Both the masterclasses seemed to go very well, with lots of constructive comments and discussion.

However it wasn’t all work: before the conference Chuang, Qilin and other members of the Peking Department very kindly took the conference speakers to visit the Badaling section of the Great Wall – an absolutely amazing sight, made even more splendid by the beautiful autumn colours of the surroundings. (Some of the party decided to make their way down from the Wall via the ‘sliding cars’ – rollercoaster-type chairs which descended by gravity, and which the driver stopped using a manual hand break, an interesting ride!) Throughout the trip, Peking colleagues were incredibly generous with their time and effort, for instance, taking the party on a guided tour of their beautiful Peking campus and treating us all to a huge amount of amazing Chinese food (from a fantastic Mongolian cook-your-own-food buffet to a traditional Peking duck restaurant, where the conference banquet was held).

The conference itself involved leading figures from the semantics-pragmatics debate and included philosophers, linguists and cognitive scientist. It was also a very international programme, with the nationality of speakers including UK, France, Spain, China, New Zealand, Australia, USA and Guatemala. The full programme of speakers and titles was as follows:


Emma Borg

Philosophy, University of Reading

Explanatory roles for minimal content
Stephen Crain

Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD), Macquarie, Australia

The basic meanings of logical words
Nat Hansen

Philosophy, University of Reading

Cross-cultural context sensitivity
Robyn Carston

Linguistics, University College London

Polysemy, pragmatics, and lexicon(s)
Chuang Ye

Philosophy, Peking University

The meaning of hidden indexicals and the character of Kaplanian indexicals
Teresa Marques

Philosophy, University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona

Guillermo Estuardo Del Pinal

Philosophy, ZAS Berlin

Prototypes, compositionality, and conceptual components
Francois Recanati

Philosophy, Institut Jean-Nicod, Paris

Semantic entry points for speaker’s meaning


Both Emma and Nat felt the conference was a great success and they would like to extend their thanks to all the speakers, to the conference audience and to everyone at Peking who worked so hard on the event. Next summer, 25-26th June, the second Pervasive Context conference will take place at the University of Reading; details of the programme will be advertised here soon. Anyone who would like to attend this event should contact e.g.n.borg@reading.ac.uk. Emma and Nat also hope to produce a volume of conference papers with OUP in the future, title yet to be decided, so those interested in this topic but unable to attend should still be able to read selected papers from the network conferences.