Fri 21 June – Bridget Copley

Speaker: Bridget Copley (SFL – CNRS/Paris 8)
Title: Causal theory as the “B side” of modal theory: The English progressive as case study
Date: Fri 21 June (note day change)
Location: Lipsius 1.31 (note room change)
Zoom: Link / Meeting ID: 651 0051 9185 / Passcode: !bqD6E0N
Time: 16:30 – 17:45 (note time change)

Back when record companies used to send radio stations vinyl records, the “A side” of the record would be the intended hit single, and there would be another song, not necessarily good enough to be a single, on the “B side”. Similarly, it’s been said that modality and causation are “two sides of the same coin” (Ilić 2014), or perhaps the same record. There’s no denying that David Lewis’ possible world semantics for modality has gone platinum – it’s a powerful theory. Causation has not gotten nearly as much play in formal semantics. However, theories of causation can be quite powerful as well, and in particular, can easily represent counterfactuality and normality (see work by Leonard Talmy and separately, by Judea Pearl). In this talk, I will put on the B side of the record, and propose that causal relations, appropriately and dynamically represented, can be more useful than quantification over possible worlds, in particular for the English progressive. Not only are they as powerful as modal theory for truth conditions, but they also make our semantics align more closely with what is known about grammaticalization and the syntax-semantics interface for English be -ing.

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