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?
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.
February 2020: Visiting Professor Grant from NWO for a month-long visit by Sabine Iatridou (MIT) to Amsterdam.
Sign Language of the Netherlands
Chapter for an advisory report by the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW) Languages for the Netherlands. With Pieter Muysken, Beppie van den Bogaerde, and Onno Crasborn, December 2019.
Invited talk at Asking and Answering: Rivalling Approaches to Interrogative Methods
Greifswald, September 19, 2020
Invited talk at the Second Tsinghua Interdisciplinary Workshop on Logic, Language, and Meaning
Beijing, October 30, 2020
Invited talk at Sinn und Bedeutung
Köln, September 2021
Interacting alternatives: Referential indeterminacy and questions
Joint work with Jakub Dotlacil. Presented at Rutgers University, November 2019. Earlier versions presented in Barcelona, Stockholm, and Amsterdam.
Quexistentials and focus
Joint work with Sabine Iatridou and Kees Hengeveld. Presented at the University of British Columbia and at Princeton, November 2019.
NPIs in questions
Linguistics Colloquium at New York University, November 2018.
Earlier versions presented in Santa Cruz, Munich, and Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam Colloquium
International conference on natural language semantics, Amsterdam, December 18-20, 2019
International workshop collocated with the Amsterdam Colloquium, Amsterdam, December 18, 2019
Inquisitiveness Below and Beyond the Sentence Boundary
International workshop on inquisitive semantics and related topics, Amsterdam, June 26-27, 2019
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
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
2016 ERC Starting Grant (1400k euro)
2015 NWO VIDI Grant (800k euro)
2012 NWO VENI Grant (250k euro)
> 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
5 PhD students
10 Master thesis projects
> 10 Bachelor thesis projects
Associate Editor, Journal of Semantics, since 2018
2 special issues (Synthese & Topoi)
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
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.
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. We are currently exploring these horizons in linguistics, logic, and philosophy, and are also looking toward applications in computer science.
Besides questions, there are various other constructions that require a refinement of the truth-conditional notion of meaning. 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.
My daughter, now five years old, was born deaf. Learning Dutch Sign Language (NGT) and using it on a daily basis has opened up a new world to me, both at a personal and at an academic level. 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.
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.
Together with several colleagues and students, I have recently started to develop a system that can translate sentences from Dutch into NGT, displayed by means of a virtual avatar. Over the next couple of years I intend to develop this system further based on new theoretical insights into sign language grammar, and apply it in several settings, in particular to support parents of deaf children in the early stages of learning sign language and to improve communication between health care providers and deaf patients.
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
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
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
Maria Aloni, University of Amsterdam
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
Wataru Uegaki, University of Edinburgh
Adrian Brasoveanu, UC Santa Cruz
Lucas Champollion, New York University
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
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 questions and announcements in the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 from Dutch into Dutch Sign Language. Translations are displayed by means of videos and animated avatars.
Floris Roelofsen, University of Amsterdam
Anika Smeijers, Amsterdam Medical Centre
Avatar and interface development
COVID-19 programme, Netherlands Organisation for Innovation in Healthcare (ZonMw)
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)
Beppie van den Bogaerde, University of Amsterdam
Onno Crasborn, University of Nijmegen
Roland Pfau, University of Amsterdam
Marijke Scheffener, University of Amsterdam
Anika Smeijers, Amsterdam University Medical Centre
Martine en Roos Wattel, Wat Telt!