General Linguistics

Working Papers
How can history inform semantics: the case of externalnegation. Working Paper. presentation_for_the_grouppaper_schollion.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal EA, Baglini R. Modelling linguistic causation. Submitted.Abstract

This paper introduces a systematic way of analyzing the semantics of causative linguistic expressions, and of how causal relations are expressed in natural languages. The starting point for this broad agenda is to provide an explanation for the asymmetrical inferential relationship between two causative constructions: change-of-state (CoS) verbs and the verb cause, commonly ascribed to the former having an additional prerequisite of direct causation. The direct causation hypothesis, however, is fraught with empirical and theoretical challenges. At the theoretical level, capturing the felicity conditions specific to CoS verbs and the notion of direct causation requires a means of modelling complex causal structures. This is on no account a trivial task, as it necessitates, inter alia, modelling causation in a way that is germane to the linguistic expressions designating such relations. Hence, the main objective of this paper is to develop a framework for modelling the  semantics of causal statements. For this purpose, this paper makes use of the framework
of Structural Equation Modelling (SEM), and it demonstrates how this approach provides tools for a rigorous model-theoretic treatment of the differential semantics of causal  expressions. This paper introduces formal logical definitions of different types of conditions  using SEM networks, and show how this proposal and the formal tools it employs allow us to make sense of the asymmetric entailment relationship between the two constructions. In our proposal, CoS verbs do not require contiguity between cause and effect at all, but instead they require that its subject is set by default to a participant in completion event, the event which “completes” a sufficient set of conditions, such that following this event (but not before) the values of the set of conditions in the sufficient set entail that the effect occurs. According to this, the intuition of direct causation arises (epiphenomenally) from contrasting CoS verbs with overt cause sentences: the stronger selection pattern of the former - which requires a completion event - may exclude more temporally distant conditions, while the latter admits any necessary condition. 

Baglini R, Bar-Asher Siegal EA. Two notions of causal sufficiencyFormal machinery. Working Paper. cocoa_formalism_handout_3.pdf
Journal Articles
Bar-Asher Siegal EA. Review of Sjors, Ambji:Srn: Historical Aspects of Standard Negationin Semitic. Leiden/Boston: Brill 2018. XVI, 478 S. 8° =Studies in Semit ic Languages and Linguistics 91. Orientalistische Literaturzeltung. 2021;2021 (116) :376-379. review_sjors_final.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal E. The Formation and the cognitive knowledge of literary langauges: the case of Hebrew and Aramaic in the Middle Ages. Hebrew Studies. 2021;62 :343-363.Abstract

This paper characterizes Medieval Hebrew and Aramaic as literary languages and seeks to explain how a 'literary language' namely a language used mainly in literary contexts arises, while utilizing three types of research: comparative philological research, which compares different languages and texts in terms of their vocabulary and grammar; sociolinguistic research, which examines the social functions of language use; and psycholinguistic research, which (in this particular case) examines issues of language acquisition. The paper builds on philological studies of literary languages to explain how the grammar of these languages evolves. It assumes that the acquisition of such languages is similar to second-language acquisition, while taking into account that these languages are both acquired and used in a strictly literary context. The main argument of the paper is that literary languages should be studied the same way as other languages, because ultimately after making some adjustments motivated by their particular functions they are compatible with the standard models of second-language acquisition.

Bar-Asher Siegal EA. The Interrogative-Indefinite Puzzle in the Context of Biblical Hebrew. Journal for Semitics 28 . 2019;28.Abstract

The biblical corpus features a number of verses in which interrogative pronouns appear in non-interrogative contexts. The same phenomenon is observed in many other languages and gives rise to the question known in the linguistic literature as “the interrogative-indefinite puzzle,” namely, what is the natural connection between the interrogative and indefinite functions. This paper seeks to explore how this question should be examined in the context of the Biblical Hebrew data. It will be argued that a consideration of typological observations can yield important insights into this question. Subsequently, it proposes a formal semantic analysis of the indefinite pronouns in question and shows how the proposed approach can help explain their distribution.

Bar-Asher Siegal EA. Scientificity – Humanities – demarcation criteria. Katharsis. 2018;28 :61-76. bar-asher_siegal_melnik_final.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal EA, Boneh N. Discourse update at the service of mirativity effects: the case of the Discursive Dative. Proceedings of SALT (Semantic and Linguistic Theory). 2016;26 :103-121. discourse_update_at_the_service_of_mirat.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal EA. The case for external sentential negation: evidence from Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. Linguistics. 2015;53 :1031–1078. the_case_for_external_sentential_negatio.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal EA. From a Non-Argument-Dative to an Argument-Dative: the character and origin of the qṭīl lī construction in Syriac and Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. Folia Orientalia . 2014;51 :): 59-111. from_a_non-argument-dative_to_an_argumen.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal EA. Notes on the history of reciprocal NP-strategies in Semitic languages in a typological perspective. Diachronica . 2014;31 :337-378. notes_on_the_history_of_reciprocal_np-st.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal EA. Adnominal possessive and subordinating particles in Semitic languages. Morphologie, syntaxe et sémantique des subordonnants. Cahiers du LRL. 2013;5 :133-150.
Bar-Asher Siegal EA. From typology to diachrony: synchronic and diachronic aspects of predicative possessive constructions in Akkadian. Folia Linguistica Historica . 2011;31 :43-88. from_typology_to_diachrony_synchronic_a.pdf
Conference Proceedings
Baglini R. Direct causation: A new approach to an old question. PLC U. Penn Working Papers in Linguistics [Internet]. Submitted;26 :19-28. Publisher's VersionAbstract


Causative constructions come in lexical and periphrastic variants, exemplified in English by Sam killed Lee and Sam caused Lee to die. While use of the former, the lexical causative, entails the truth of the latter, an entailment in the other direction does not hold.  The source of this asymmetry is commonly ascribed to the lexical causative having an additional prerequisite of “direct causation", such that the causative relation holds between a contiguous cause and effect (Fodor 1970, Katz 1970).  However, this explanation encounters both empirical and theoretical problems (Nelleman & van der Koot  2012). To explain the source of the directness inferences (as well as other longstanding puzzles), we propose a formal analysis based on the framework of Structural Equation Models (SEMs) (Pearl 2000) which provides the necessary background for licensing causal inferences. Specifically, we provide a formalization of a 'sufficient set of conditions' within a model and demonstrate its role in the selectional parameters of causative descriptions. We argue that “causal sufficiency” is not a property of singular conditions, but rather sets of conditions, which are individually necessary but only sufficient when taken together (a view originally motivated in the philosophical literature by Mackie 1965). We further introduce the notion of a “completion event” of a sufficient set, which is critical to explain the particular inferential profile of lexical causatives.
Bar-Asher Siegal EA, Bassel N, Hagmayer Y. Causal selection – the linguistic take. Experiments in Linguistic Meaning. Forthcoming;1. elm_paper_final.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal EA, Boneh N. Sufficient and Necessary Conditions for a Non-Unified Analysis of Causation. the 36th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL). Forthcoming;36.Abstract


Given that causative linguistic constructions are divisible into three parts: i) a cause (c); ii) an effect (e); and iii) the dependency (D) between (c) and (e), in studying the nature of (D), one should examine whether a one, all-encompassing, causative meaning component underlying the diverse linguistic phenomena is a justifiable position, or rather different ones should be distinguished for the various causative constructions. Only recently several philosophers argued in favor of theories of causal pluralism, allowing the co-existence of different notions of causation; some cognitive studies also indicate that people have a pluralistic conception of causation, similarly it has been proposed that the semantic content of (D) is different in various constructions, tracing whether the main verb encodes a necessary or a sufficient condition. This paper expands on this latter line of thought by focusing on the types of dependencies encoded within three verbal constructions in Hebrew, considering crucially whether these dependencies are asserted and/or presupposed. It argues, therefore, in favor of a non-unified semantic analysis for (D) denoted by the three verbal causative constructions to be passed under review here: overt causatives, verbs of change of state and caused activity verbs. According to the current proposal: Overt causatives assert necessary conditions;  change of states causatives assert necessary conditions and presuppose potential sufficient conditions; and Caused activities only presuppose potential sufficient conditions.


Bar-Asher Siegal EA. A formal approach to reanalysis: The case of a negative counterfactual marker. LSA. 2020;5 (2) :34-50.Abstract

This paper proposes a formal definition of reanalysis, while emphasizing the importance of the distinction between two different kinds of reanalysis: those in which the change is confined to the grammatical level, and those in which it is confined to the semantic level. After tracing the history of a negative counterfactual conditional marker in Hebrew and Aramaic which underwent both syntactic and semantic reanalyses, the paper assesses the concept of reanalysis with focus on the following questions: Is reanalysis a single, clearly-defined phenomenon, and if so, what is its nature? Is it merely a descriptive label for a certain observable state of affairs, or does it explain diachronic changes? Alternatively, perhaps it is a theoretical constraint, a theoretical requirement that linguistic change must be associated with specific environments where reanalysis can take place? A detailed analysis of the marker and its evolution yields the following broad hypothesis: Reanalysis of a linguistic form does not change the truth conditions of the proposition that contains it, regardless of whether the reanalysis is on the grammatical level or on the semantic level.

Bar-Asher Siegal EA. The Semitic templates from the perspective of reciprocal predicates. Proceedings of the 10th Mediterranean Morphology Meeting. 2016 :16-30. the_semitic_templates_from_the_perspecti.pdf
Bar-Asher Siegal EA, Boneh N. Decomposing Affectedness: Truth-Conditional Non-core Datives in Modern Hebrew. Proceedings of the 30th Annual Conference of the Israel Association for Theoretical Linguistics [Internet]. 2015 :1-21. Publisher's Version
Bar-Asher Siegal EA, Boneh N. Non-core datives in Modern Hebrew. Proceedings of the 30th Annual Conference of the Israel Association for Theoretical Linguistics [Internet]. 2015 :22. Publisher's Version