Floris Roelofsen

Associate Professor · Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation · University of Amsterdam

It is fascinating that by producing a sequence of sounds, gestures, or written symbols people can successfully communicate highly complex ideas and subtle feelings. How does that work?

Linguists, philosophers, cognitive scientists, and computer scientists have made tremendous progress in addressing this question. And insights emerging from these investigations have led to many practical applications in language technology and education.

However, more attention has been paid to certain forms of communication than to others. The truth-conditional content of declarative sentences has been investigated in much greater depth than the semantic content of other sentence types, such as questions. Spoken languages have been studied much more extensively than signed languages. My research interests center on these lesser explored forms of communication.

How should theories of meaning be generalised beyond truth-conditional content?

And what can we learn about communication by looking beyond spoken languages?

Current/recent/upcoming projects: InqBnB (NWO VIDI Grant 2015-2021), QuModQu (ERC Starting Grant 2016-2021), SignHealth (ZonMW Grant 2020-2021), QuSign (NWO VICI Grant 2021-2026), MECORE (AHRC/DFG Grant 2021-2024).


Recent grants

April 2021: Vici Grant from NWO for a 5-year project on the form and interpretation of questions in sign language.

November 2020: AHRC/DFG grant for a 3-year project on meaning-driven combinatorial restrictions in clausal embedding, together with Wataru Uegaki (Edinburgh) and Maribel Romero (Konstanz).

June 2020: COVID-19 Grant from ZonMw to develop a sign language translation system that improves communication between health care providers and deaf patients in times of COVID-19 and beyond.

Recent book

Inquisitive semantics
Ivano Ciardelli, Jeroen Groenendijk, and Floris Roelofsen. Oxford University Press, 2018.
download pdf get hardcopy

Upcoming invited talks

ZAS Biased Questions Workshop
Berlin (virtually), February 4-5, 2021

New York Philosophy of Language Workshop
New York (virtually), March 29, 2021

UConn Logic Colloquium
Storrs (virtually), April 9, 2021

Seoul National University Linguistics Colloquium
Seoul (virtually), May 7, 2021

Invited talk at Sinn und Bedeutung
Köln, September 2021

Recent interviews in popular media

What happens if you grow up without language?
ILLC blogpost, in English.

Dove kinderen en hun ouders hebben meer gebarentaalaanbod nodig
VHZ interview, 10 minutes reading, in Dutch.

Taalwetenschapper pleit voor meer aandacht voor dove kinderen
TV news item, 4 minutes, in Dutch.

Leer dove kinderen en hun ouders gebarentaal
Radio interview, 57 minutes, in Dutch.

Recent presentations of ongoing work

Negative polarity items in questions
Invited talk at the TLLM, Beijing, December 17-19, 2020.

Questions and indeterminate reference
Invited talk at Asking and Answering, Greifswald, September 19, 2020

Interacting alternatives: Referential indeterminacy and questions
Invited talk at Rutgers University, November 2019.

Quexistentials and focus
Invited talk at Princeton, November 2019.

Recent events I helped to organize

The Amsterdam Colloquium
International conference on natural language semantics, Amsterdam, December 18-20, 2019

Semantic Universals
International workshop collocated with the Amsterdam Colloquium, Amsterdam, December 18, 2019

Short Bio

Main appointments

2015-now Associate Professor. ILLC, Amsterdam
2013-2015 Assistant Professor. ILLC, Amsterdam
2010-2013 Postdoc. ILLC, Amsterdam
2009-2010 Vis. Assistant Professor, UMass Amherst
2008-2009 Postdoc. ILLC, Amsterdam

Visiting appointments

2015 (1 mth) CSLI, Stanford.
2012 (3 mth) Linguistics, UC Santa Cruz
2011 (3 mth) Linguistics, UC Santa Cruz
2006 (6 mth) Computer Science, Harvard

Main personal grants

2021 NWO VICI Grant (1500k euro)
2016 ERC Starting Grant (1400k euro)
2015 NWO VIDI Grant (800k euro)
2012 NWO VENI Grant (250k euro)


1 textbook
> 20 top-tier journal articles
> 30 top-tier conference articles / book chapters
> 3000 citations (see Google Scholar)


> 15 courses at ILLC Amsterdam
2 courses at UMass Amherst Linguistics
1 course at Harvard Computer Science
3 mini-courses at San Diego, Göttingen & Beijing
5 courses at international summer schools


6 Postdocs
6 PhD students
10 Master thesis projects
> 10 Bachelor thesis projects

Editorial work

Associate Editor, Journal of Semantics, since 2018
3 special issues (Synthese, Topoi, Glossa)
5 conference proceedings and 1 festschrift
Frequent reviewing for journals and conferences


Served on several NWO selection panels
Organized 5 international conferences
Organized 8 international workshops
Built the inquisitive semantics website


Meaning beyond truth-conditions

Truth-conditional semantics

It is a commonplace idea that a child has learned the meaning of a sentence like ''The book is on the table'' if it can tell whether the sentence is true or false in any given situation. This truth-conditional notion of meaning has been very fruitful but also has clear limitations. Namely, while declarative sentences can be judged true or false in a given situation, this does not hold for other types of sentences, such as questions.

Inquisitive semantics

Generalising the truth-conditional notion of meaning to overcome this limitation has been one of the main aims of my work over the last ten years. Together with several colleagues and students, I have developed a semantic framework called inquisitive semantics, which is based on a more general notion of meaning. This opens up new horizons for all disciplines concerned with linguistic interpretation. At the inquisitive semantics lab we are currently exploring these horizons in linguistics, logic, and philosophy, and are also looking toward applications in computer science.

Interacting alternatives

Besides questions, there are various other constructions that require a refinement of the truth-conditional notion of meaning as well. What many of these constructions have in common is that they generate alternatives. A question like ''Where is Mary?'' asks the addressee to choose between alternative locations. An indefinite referential expression like ''somewhere in the south of France'' does not refer to a specific location but introduces multiple referential alternatives. In a statement like ''Mary only likes FRENCH wine'', the emphasis on ''French'' generates so-called focus alternatives (Italian wine, Spanish wine, etcetera) which together form the quantificational domain of ''only''. These are just a couple of examples: alternatives are everywhere in language.

An important open issue in the field is how the various types of alternatives (question alternatives, referential alternatives, focus alternatives, among others) relate to each other and how they interact in the interpretation process. This general question is one I want to address over the next couple of years.

Inquisitive Semantics Lab


Ciyang Qing (2020-2021)
Thom van Gessel (2020-2021)
Gianluca Grilletti (2020-2021)
Jakub Dotlacil (2016-2019), now Assistant Professor in Utrecht
Alexandre Cremers (2016-2019), now Postdoc in Paris
Ivano Ciardelli (2016), now Assistant Professor in Munich

PhD students

Marco Degano (2020-2024)
Thom van Gessel (2016-2020), now Postdoc in Amsterdam
Gianluca Grilletti (2016-2020), now Postdoc in Amsterdam
Nadine Theiler (2015-2019), now Postdoc at UConn
Ivano Ciardelli (2012-2016), now Assistant Professor in Munich
Matthijs Westera (2010-2017), now Assistant Professor in Leiden

Master students

Morwenna Hoeks (2018), next: PhD in Santa Cruz
Jonathan Pesetsky (2018), next: PhD in Amherst
Hana Möller Kalpak (2018), next: PhD in Stockholm
Thom van Gessel (2016), next: PhD in Amsterdam
Benjamin Sparkes (2015), next: PhD at Stanford
Nadine Theiler (2014), next: PhD in Amsterdam
Michele Herbstritt (2014), next: PhD in Tübingen
Pawel Lojko (2012), next: Moody's Analytics, New York
Noortje Venhuizen (2012), next: PhD in Groningen
Ivano Ciardelli (2009), next: PhD in Amsterdam

Current collaborators

Maria Aloni, University of Amsterdam
Anna Alsop, New York University
Lucas Champollion, New York University
Ivano Ciardelli, LMU Munich
Liz Coppock, Boston University
Alexandre Cremers, ENS Paris
Jakub Dotlacil, Utrecht University
Donka Farkas, Princeton / UC Santa Cruz
Kees Hengeveld, University of Amsterdam
Sabine Iatridou, MIT
Sunwoo Jeong, Seoul National University
Maribel Romero, Konstanz University
Wataru Uegaki, University of Edinburgh

Past collaborators

Adrian Brasoveanu, UC Santa Cruz
Sam van Gool, Amsterdam
Jeroen Groenendijk, Amsterdam
Barbara Grosz, Harvard
Morwenna Hoeks, UC Santa Cruz
Rebecca Nesson, Harvard
Kathryn Pruitt, Arizona State University
Luciano Serafini, Trento
Galit Weidman Sassoon, Tel Aviv
Nadine Theiler, UConn

Language beyond spoken languages

Sign language: linguistic structure made visible

Investigating sign languages has the potential to yield important linguistic insights which are much more difficult to obtain by investigating spoken languages alone, because linguistic structures are sometimes much easier to detect in sign languages than in spoken languages. Quite literally, sign languages often make linguistic structure directly visible.

Breaking language barriers

Not only can science benefit from investigating sign languages; it also has an important role to play in diminishing the language barrier between deaf and hearing people. Deeper insights into the grammar of sign languages are essential in training sign language interpreters and to lay a solid foundation for sign language machine translation technology.

SignLab Amsterdam

At the recently founded SignLab Amsterdam we are pursuing deeper insights into sign language grammar, and are using these insights to develop machine translation tools that can translate sentences from Dutch or English into Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT), displayed by means of animated avatars.

Recent interviews

- ILLC blogpost: What happens if you grow up without language?
- VHZ interview (10 minutes reading, in Dutch): Dove kinderen en hun ouders hebben meer gebarentaalaanbod nodig
- TV news item (4 minutes, in Dutch): Taalwetenschapper pleit voor meer aandacht voor dove kinderen
- Radio interview (57 minutes, in Dutch): Leer dove kinderen en hun ouders gebarentaal


Current project

In times of COVID-19, communication between health care providers and deaf patients is very difficult, because sign language interpreters are often not allowed to enter the hospital and mouth caps make lipreading impossible.

We are developing an online tool that translates the most common phrases in the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 from Dutch into Sign Language of the Netherlands. Translations are displayed by means of videos and animated avatars.

Lyke Esselink, SignLab Amsterdam
Shani Mende-Gillings, SignLab Amsterdam
Floris Roelofsen, SignLab Amsterdam
Anika Smeijers, Amsterdam Medical Centre


European Research Council (ERC)
Netherlands Organisation for Innovation in Healthcare (ZonMw)

Undergraduate student alumni

Lyke Esselink (2020)
Shani Mende-Gillings (2020)
Judith Corsel (2020)
Jasmijn Bleijlevens (2020)
Bram Smit (2019)
Sander Brinkhuijsen (2019)
Steven de Weille (2019)
Nardi Lam (2018)
Jetske Beks (2018)

Collaborators and advisors

Beppie van den Bogaerde, University of Amsterdam
Onno Crasborn, University of Nijmegen
Bastien David, University of Geneve
John Glauert, University of East Anglia
Richard Kennaway, University of East Anglia
Maartje de Meulder, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences
Ellen Ormel, University of Nijmegen
Roland Pfau, University of Amsterdam
Marijke Scheffener, University of Amsterdam
Anika Smeijers, Amsterdam University Medical Centre
Connie de Vos, Tilburg University
Roos Wattel, Wat Telt!
Lissa Zeviar, Gebarenstem