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Review of  Two-dimensional Semantics

Reviewer: Tim Hirschberg
Book Title: Two-dimensional Semantics
Book Author: Tatjana Scheffler
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Subject Language(s): German
Issue Number: 25.4922

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


The book presents case studies of relevance (a.k.a. biscuit) conditionals, sentence adverbs, speech act uses of causal connectors, sliftings, and German verb second complement clauses. Scheffler argues that these theoretically challenging constructions, which give rise to peculiar interpretative effects, can be given a unified account in terms of Potts’s (2005) logic for conventional implicatures (CIs). It is thus proposed that they convey their meaning via an independent semantic dimension. This predicts both semantic unembeddability (none of these constructions seem to interact with negative, interrogative, or modal operators) and the availability of interpretations that go beyond the possibilities of the standard variants (regular conditionals, etc.).

The book is a revised version of Scheffler’s 2008 dissertation. Most examples are from English or German but the author expects her results to be language independent for the most part. The target audience are linguists with an interest in semantics, especially ones who focus on non-standard embedding phenomena and questions of compositionality. Some basic knowledge of semantics (e.g. at the level of the Heim & Kratzer 1998 textbook) will be sufficient to follow the discussion.

After the introductory section (chapter 1), Potts’s two-dimensional theory is presented (chapter 2). The main motivation for the existence of a further semantic dimension comes from constructions that do not affect truth conditions, although they appear to be syntactically integrated. They rather contribute side comments on the main assertion. Often cited examples are nominal appositives, non-restrictive relative clauses, and expressive modifiers (e.g. damn). The CI dimension entails the following characteristics: CIs are necessarily understood as commitments made by the actual speaker (speaker orientation), they convey discourse new meaning (in contrast to presuppositions), and they do not engage scope interactions (semantic unembeddability).

In chapter 3, Scheffler uses a set of diagnostic tools to demonstrate that these characteristics hold for evaluative (e.g. unfortunately) and utterance modifying (e.g. frankly) adverbs. The strategy for showing CI status will remain the same for all construction types discussed in the book. In German, there are both syntactically integrated and disintegrated adverbs that behave like CIs:

(1) Leider hat er es nicht ernst gemeint.

‘Unfortunately he didn’t mean it.’

(2) *Wer schläft leider hier?

‘Who sleeps here, unfortunately?’

(3) Mal ehrlich, er ist wirklich nicht so schlau.

‘Honestly, he isn’t really that smart.’

The adverb leider ‘unfortunately’ occurs in the so called prefield (Vorfeld) in (1), which is taken as evidence for its integrated status. Nevertheless, it cannot be embedded under question operators, as shown in (2). By contrast, mal ehrlich ‘honestly’ is not able to precede the finite verb in (3). The prefield is filled by the subject pronoun er ‘he’ and the adverb appears to be structurally orphaned. The syntactic difference correlates with an interpretative difference: while the integrated type takes a propositional argument, the disintegrated type comments on a whole utterance. Importantly, it is the shift to the CI dimension that enables modification of utterance relations, according to Scheffler.

Chapter 4 is dedicated to causal connectors in German. Scheffler summarizes the controversial discussion on the distribution of denn and weil (both regular weil with verb last word order and the informal variant with verb second word order (weil-V2)). She observes that there exists a superset relation. While denn can be applied both to propositions and to speech acts, weil is restricted to the first option:

(4) ??Ist vom Mittag noch etwas übrig? Weil ich schon wieder Hunger habe.

(5) Ist vom Mittag noch etwas übrig? Denn ich habe schon wieder Hunger.

‘Is there anything left over from lunch? Because I’m already hungry again.’

Scheffler derives the wider application range of denn from its CI status. In principle, it has the same causal meaning as weil. However, denn contributes its causal component through a different meaning dimension so that it can target illocutionary operators. In German, the shift to the CI dimension is not only triggered lexically but also syntactically. V2 second word allows weil to have speech act readings too:

(6) Die Antwort ist auf Seite 242, weil du findest sie ja selbst nie.

‘The answer is on page 242, since you will never find it yourself.’

Chapter 5 expands the CI analysis to relevance conditionals. Scheffler’s main argument against previous accounts is that they do not capture semantic unembeddability. According to her, the if-clause of a relevance conditional takes the form of a side comment which is completely irrelevant for the truth-conditions of the main assertion:

(7) a: If you’re hungry, there’s pizza in the fridge.

At Issue Content: There’s pizza in the fridge.

CI: If Addressee is hungry, a utters (There’s pizza in the fridge)

Despite the fact that no regular conditional meaning can be recognized in (7), a conditional operator is present. Its interpretative effect becomes active in the CI dimension, thereby establishing a condition for the relevance of the consequent.

Chapter 6 is an intermediate summary. Scheffler emphasizes that her analysis gives a principled explanation for the intuition that there exist parallels between non-standard usages of conditionals, adverbs, and clausal connectors. In every case, an operator is lifted to the CI dimension, what enables interpretations above the propositional level. She also explains why some constructions are not only semantically but in addition syntactically separated from their matrix clause. According to her, syntactic disintegration marks CI status (besides comma intonation or lexicalized CI triggers).

In chapter 7, German verb second complement clauses and so called sliftings (Max is a Martian, I feel) are compared. Scheffler rejects previous attempts to derive these constructions from each other. While both trigger conventional implicatures and involve the same meaning components, there exist important differences. For instance, in sliftings, the attitude verb has a parenthetical status. By contrast, the attitude verb acts as the head of the main clause in verb second complements. Chapter 7 also addresses the pertinent question of which verbs allow verb second complements in German.

Chapter 8 concludes the book.


Scheffler shows convincingly how one and the same mechanism might be decisive for a divergent group of constructions. She fruitfully applies Potts’s CI theory to a number of controversial phenomena. In particular, the complex verb-second vs. verb-last data from German are discussed in a well-balanced manner. Moreover, the book is written clearly and concisely. Some areas, however, should have been treated more thoroughly. Chierchia & McConnel-Ginet’s (2000) ‘family of sentences’ has motivated the CI diagnostics, but there is no reference to it. More importantly, Potts’s framework is presented rather uncritically. Scheffler only briefly mentions problems related to stacked CIs (footnote on p. 43). However, there exists an ever-growing array of potential empirical counterevidence to the CI theory (see Amaral et al. 2007; Schlenker 2010a/b; Sæbø 2011; Wang et al. 2004; among others). Even Scheffler admits that relevance conditionals do not always behave as expected with regard to . semantic unembeddability:

(8) John said that if you need him later he’ll be in 418.

The relevance conditional in (8) is not anchored to the actual speaker but to John, i.e. it appears to be embedded under the verb say. Scheffler tries to solve this contradiction by assuming that CIs form a mixed class (p. 112). According to her, at least some CIs allow embedding in a limited way. Speaker orientation, however, is the hallmark feature of CIs and if one weakens the definition, it will be difficult to keep CIs and informative (i.e. accommodated) presuppositions apart. I think it would be preferable to reconsider the scope based analysis of attitude verbs and their complements instead. Perspective shifts may very well occur independent of scope (cf. Harris & Potts 2009).

Note that Scheffler’s generalization that the availability of high readings (epistemic, speech-act, etc.) comes along with scopelessness and speaker orientation does not necessarily speak in favor of the CI account. It could also be the other way round, i.e. whenever meaning components are used to apply to discourse information directly (making the source of the information transparent, showing why something is relevant, etc.) they project over semantic operators. This is roughly the idea behind Simon et al.’s (2011) information structural approach to projection. This approach is also more flexible and can easily deal with exceptions from the ban on scope interaction.


Amaral, P., Roberts, C., Smith, E. (2007): Review of ‘The Logic of Conventional Implicatures’ by Chris Potts. Linguistics and Philosophy 30: 707-749.

Chierchia, G., McConnel-Ginet, S. (2000): Meaning and Grammar.. Cambridge, MA.

Harris, J., Potts, C. (2009): Predicting perspectival orientation for appositives. CLS 45.

Heim, I., Kratzer, A. (1998): Semantics in Generative Grammar. Oxford.

Potts, C. (2005): The Logic of Conventional Implicatures. Oxford.

Schlenker, P. (2010a/b): Supplements within a unidimensional semantics. (a) Scope and (b) Epistemic status and projection. In: Proceedings of the Amsterdam Colloquium 2009 (a) & Proceedings of NELS 2009 (b).

Simons, M. et al. (2011): What projects and why. In: Proceedings of SALT 20. Online publication []. 3090–327.

Sæbø, K. (2011): Appositives in modal contexts. In: I. Reich et al. (eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 15. Saarbrücken 79-100.

Wang, L., McCready, E., Brian, R. (2004): Nominal appositives in context. In: M. Martínez, A. Alcázar and R. Hernandéz (eds.), Proceedings of Western Conference on Linguistics [WECOL]. California State University. 411-423.
Tim Hirschberg is a Ph.D. candidate at ZAS Berlin. He is currently writing his dissertation on how discourse relations influence scope in embedded clauses. His research interests includes semantics and pragmatics.