Two days at least

“Two days at least” is an international invitation-only workshop organised by the ERC funded ROSE project (“Restriction and Obviation in Scalar Expressions”, Utrecht University). The core topic of the workshop concerns scalar, ignorance and /or free choice inferences associated with modifiers like “at least” and similar expressions. The workshop is intended to bring together the many topics that overlap with some of the issues one finds in the literature on superlative modifiers, for instance:

  • talks on modified numerals
  • talks on related expressions such as epistemic indefinites or free choice items
  • talks on free choice, modal variability and/or ignorance more generally
  • talks on scalar expressions and/or scalar inferences

Preliminary programme:

DAY 0 – September 9

Arrival & Dinner (communal dinner starts at 7pm)

DAY 1 – September 10


9:15 welcome
9:30 Chris Cummins
10:30 break
10:45 Jessica Rett, “Manner implicature in modified numerals”
11:45 break
12:00 Marie-Christine Meyer & Clemens Mayr, “More than At least”
13:00 lunch
14:30 Bernhard Schwarz, “‘At least’ and the theory of implicature”
15:30 break
15:45 Maria Aloni
16:45 break
17:00 Anastasia Giannakidou, “At least-inferences, even, and only: Unifying the landscape, at least in Greek”

Dinner & Drinks

DAY 2 – September 11


9:30 Elizabeth Coppock & Chris Kennedy, “What do superlative and comparative modifiers have to do with superlatives and comparatives?”
10:30 break
10:45 Benjamin Spector, “Modified numerals, maximality and compositionality – a modular approach”
11:45 break
12:00 Luis Alonso-Ovalle & Paula Menendez-Benito, “Modality in the nominal domain: random choice”
13:00 break
14:30 Doris Penka, “The talk is allowed to take at most one hour: The interaction of at most and modals”
15:30 break
15:45 Stephanie Solt – “No more than 15 or 20 linguists”
16:45 break
17:00 Closing words

Dinner & Drinks

DAY 3 – September 12

Breakfast and goodbyes

Talks will probably take an hour (45 minutes + 15 minutes discussion).

Location and Travel

Kasteel de Hooge Vuursche, Hilversumsestraatweg 14, 3744 KC Baarn

Google maps:

The castle is located near Baarn, which is a 15-25 minute bus ride from Hilversum, the nearest town that has a train station. There is a direct train connection from Schiphol to Hilversum, which runs twice an hour and takes thirty minutes. The bus lines from Hilversum that stop at the castle are: bus 70 to Amersfoort (twice an hour) and bus 59 to Zeist (once every hour). Outside office hours these will become much less frequent. (Here’s the phone number of two Hilversum-based taxi companies, should you need them: +31356851141, +31356565696).

See this site for more detailed general travel advice and this site for info regarding the Dutch national railway service.


Louis Alonso-Ovalle and Paula Menendez-Benito, Modality in the nominal domain: random choice

Modality cuts across syntactic categories. Many languages have indefinites that trigger modal inferences in the absence of an overt modal. Some of these items signal speaker’s ignorance. Others indicate that an agent made a random choice. While the former type has received a lot of attention in recent years, random choice indefinites are comparatively less studied (but see Choi (2007);
Choi and Romero (2008); Alonso-Ovalle and Menéndez-Benito (2011)). This talk paves the way towards
a better understanding of random choice indefinites by analyzing the interpretation and distribution of
Spanish “uno cualquiera”.

The sentence in (1) illustrates the random choice reading of “uno cualquiera”: (1) can be understood as
saying that Juan took a card and that his choice was indiscriminate. This reading has a restricted distribution.
Cases like (1), where “uno cualquiera” is in object position, are ambiguous between the random choice
reading and an evaluative reading that conveys that Juan took an unremarkable card (and is compatible
with him having chosen the card carefully.) In subject position, only the evaluative reading is available:
(2) can only mean that an unremarkable student spoke.

(1) Juan cogió una carta cualquiera
Juan took a card cualquiera

(2) Habló un estudiante cualquiera
spoke a student cuaquiera

We argue that “uno cualquiera” introduces a modal component that is anchored to the event described
by the sentence. This component derives the random choice reading of sentences like (1) (roughly, that
the agent’s decision is compatible with any of a number of actions under consideration), and blocks the
random choice reading of (2) by deriving a contradiction. Our proposal is in line with some recent work on
verbal modality where modal domains are projected from small particulars (events or individuals), rather
than from whole worlds (see Hacquard (2006, 2009); Kratzer (2012)).

Clemens Mayr & Marie-Christine Meyer, “More than At Least”

In this talk we show that both `at least/most n’ and `more/fewer than n’ can show uncertainty inferences under the right conditions. Given this observation, we conclude that uncertainty inferences for modified numerals should not be encoded in the lexical semantics of the modifiers. Rather, we suggest that they are to be derived by general and independently motivated pragmatic processes.
Our central claim is that a simple semantics for both superlative and comparative numeral modifiers can be maintained, if it is combined with a precise and independently motivated mechanism for deriving alternatives. We propose such a mechanism and show that both obligatory uncertainty implicatures, and the unavailability of scalar implicatures in unembedded contexts follow straightforwardly, given a well-defined division of labor between semantics and pragmatics.
Furthermore, we show that the account extends to embedded occurrences of superlative modifiers, where the choice between scalar vs. uncertainty implicatures we observe in other scalar expressions re-appears in most cases. Finally, we extend our account to comparative numeral modifiers, which behave differently with respect to uncertainty implicatures. Here again we argue that it is restrictions on formal alternatives induced by the comparative morphology which are the source of this difference.

Doris Penka, “The talk is allowed to take at most one hour: The interaction of at most and modals”

Recent pragmatic accounts derive the ignorance inferences of superlative modifiers as quantity implicatures in a neo-Gricean framework. While these approaches successfully account for the interpretation of ‘at least’ with modals, the behavior of ‘at most’ remains a puzzle. In this talk, I explore the possibility that obviation of ignorance inferences under possibility modals is due to a Free Choice inference and conclude that this isn’t the way to go. Instead, I propose that ‘at most’ is composed of an antonymizing operator and ‘at least’ and show how this explains the interaction of ‘at most’ and modals.

Jessica Rett, “Manner implicature in modified numerals”

In recent work, I’ve argued that measure phrase equatives (‘MPEs,’ e.g. Mary walked as far as 5km), but not their comparative counterparts, participate in a markedness competition with bare numerals and other measure phrase constructions (e.g. Mary walked 5km). As a result, MPEs carry a manner implicature, which causes them to be interpreted differently than clausal equatives (e.g. Mary walked as far as John (walked)).

In this paper, I explore the extent to which manner implicature can be used to address observed semantic differences between some Class A and Class B modifiers (Nouwen 2010). Some Class A and B modifiers appear to differ in the strictness of their ordering, as comparatives and equatives do (Cummins & Katsos 2010); extending a manner-implicature analysis to these pairs, I argue, can account for a number of observed phenomena, including ignorance implicatures, bottom-of-scale effects (Schwarz et al. 2012), and their interaction with modals (Geurts & Nouwen 2007). This account raises questions about the extent to which Class A and B numerals form natural classes (Coppock & Brochhagen 2013); the semantic treatment of bare numerals (Kennedy 2014); and of conversational implicature.

Benjamin Spector, Modified numerals, maximality and compositionality – a modular approach

I will start with a puzzle regarding the semantics of modified
numerals such as `fewer than three’, `between five and eight’,
`exactly/approximately four’, etc. The puzzle is this: on the basis of
their behavior in distributive environments, one is led to include in
the semantics of such items a `maximality’ component. For instance,
the sentence `Fewer than five guests came to the party’ can be
paraphrased as “the *largest group* of guests who came has
cardinality less than five, if such a group exists”. However, in other
environments, the maximality component is absent. For instance, on its
cumulative reading, a sentence such as “fewer than 10 chickens managed
to lay more than 100 eggs – these chickens are really quite prolific!”
does not entail that the *largest* group of chickens that managed to
lay (between them) more than 100 eggs has cardinality fewer than 10.
Rather, it simply means that one can find a group of fewer than 10
chickens who, between them, laid more than 100 eggs (which is fully
compatible with there being a larger group of chickens that have laid,
between them, more than 100 eggs). After having reviewed various
conceivable ways of giving unified lexical entries to these items, I
will conclude that there is no simple compositional solution to this
puzzle. I will propose an alternative view where the maximality
component, when present, comes from an independent mechanism, but
where some general economy constraints force this mechanism to be used
when a modified indefinite occurs in certain environments. I will show
that this approach allows for a new perspective on a number of
problems pertaining to the meaning of words like `exactly’ and

A note on the workshop title

Credit for the pun in the title of the workshop should go to a workshop on “only” organised by Paul Dekker, Alastair Butler and Henk Zeevat in Amsterdam in 2002, entitled “one day only”.