Workshop on the Morphological, Syntactic and Semantic Aspects of Dispositions

June 25, 2015 - June 27, 2015
University of Stuttgart

Geschwister-Scholl-Str. 24

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While appeals to dispositions have been made in just about every area of linguistics and philosophy, the syntax, semantics and ontology of dispositions is still subject to debate. A first obvious reason why dispositions are hard to deal with in linguistics is that the predominant Neo-Davidsonian account of logical forms is based on the isolated analysis of actual relations between causes and effects whereas dispositions pertain to possible cause-effect relations, difficult to grasp in traditional syntax/semantic frameworks. Besides, whereas for actual causations, the binary distinction between agent/causer and theme/patient makes perfect sense, possible cause-effect relations escape this distinction in that the instantiation of a disposition in an object is not related to being an agent or to being a theme of the disposition. A second obvious difficulty is due to the versatility of dispositional predicates, used to describe permanent or temporary properties of individuals or manifestations of these properties through events, not to mention their other (e.g. epistemic) readings.

Invited Speakers:

Artemis Alexiadou (Stuttgart)

Elena Castroviejo (Madrid)

Ariel Cohen (Ben Gurion)

Bridget Copley (Paris)

Nora Boneh (Jerusalem)

Hans Kamp (Stuttgart)

Marika Lekakou (Ioannina)

John Maier (Cambridge)

Christopher Piñón (Lille)

  Stephan Schmid (Berlin)

Barbara Vetter (Berlin)

This workshop intends to subject to critical scrutiny the Neo-Davidsonian foundation of syntax and semantics in the light of the linguistic expression of dispositional causal powers. We aim to bring together linguists and philosophers interested in contributing to a common point of departure in the analysis of dispositions beyond the Neo-Davidsonian framework.

With this workshop, we would like to address the following issues.

Foundational issues

The ontology of powers beyond actual eventualities: are dispositions modalities, properties, forces, states, tropes or do they have their ‚own logic‘? Are instantiations of dispositions in an object resp. manifestations of dispositions distinct from events? What is the relation between dispositions and their instantiations resp. manifestations?

Dispositions in linguistic theory: philosophers and linguists have (often independently) proposed to differentiate dispositions based on conceptual distinctions between general/complex/global and specific/simple/local dispositions. How do all these distinctions relate to each other and how are they reflected in natural languages? Which linguistic phenomena require dispositions in their analysis and how do explanations with dispositions relate to standard assumptions about natural language syntax and semantics resp. common sense knowledge?

Dispositions beyond adjectives and modals: which linguistic expressions/phenonema besides adjectives and modal predicates involve reference to dispositions in their explanation (e.g. verbs like ‚diplomatize‘, nominalizations like ‚germination‘, dispositional middles), and how do these dispositional expressions relate to or differ from adjectival or modal ones?


Dispositions in linguistic context: how does linguistic context interact with and determine the interpretation of dispositional predicates? What is the role of tense and aspect with respect to dispositional predicates? What are the criteria for establishing the truth of a disposition ascription (i.e. how are dispositions distinguished from an accumulation of coincidences)? How do dispositions interact with other linguistic elements involving causality and under which circumstances are dispositions manifested/preserved linguistically? What are linguistic tests for dispositions? How are the different uses of dispositional predicates related?

Semantics of dispositions: What is the appropriate compositional semantics of dispositional expressions? What is the proper form and content of encyclopedic/lexical knowledge about dispositions? What is the role of dispositions in event semantics, are actual events derived from dispositions? What is the thematic role of bearers of dispositional causal powers, where and how in the structure are they introduced and to which (combinations of) elements are they assigned?


Dispositional middles: One prototypical instantiation of a disposition ascription in natural language is the dispositional middle. Is the middle a notional category, i.e. a semantic notion that comprises a number of different syntaxes, or does it denote a specific syntactic configuration/grammatical category? How does the (morpho-)syntax of middles give rise to the dispositional semantics? What is the argument structure of dispositional middles, i.e. is the subject of the disposition ascription base-generated as an internal or an external argument, or does this classification break down in the context of middles (or dispositions in general?). Relatedly, how can the janus-faced property of the structural subject as being both responsible for, as well as the target of the disposition ascription be accounted for? What is the status of the morphological marking of middle constructions in languages that do involve such a marker?

The morphosyntax of dispositions: There are a number of other ways to express dispositions, such as, e.g., -able derived adjectives, modal infinitival constructions (i.e. Die Tür ist zu öffnen ‘The door is to open’), verbs (‘diplomatize’), nominals (‘radiation’), configurations involving dynamic or potential modals etc. How do the respective (morpho-)syntaxes give rise to the dispositional semantics? Do they all express the same type of disposition or is there a need for a more fine-grained classification that correlates with the different constructions? How do these ways to express dispositions relate to the dispositional middle?

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June 15, 2015, 9:00am CET

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