Underspecification and Incrementality in Semantic Disambiguation

Massimo Poesio
Section: Language and Computation
Level: Advanced


In this course we review the available psychological evidence for incrementality and underspecification in lexical processing, anaphoric processing, and scope disambiguation, and see how this evidence can be accounted for in terms of a theory of semantic processing consistent with current ideas from formal semantics.

Course Outline

Day 1. Introduction. Empirical evidence about incrementality and underspecification in semantic processing (lexical disambiguation, anaphora, scope, other aspects of discourse and dialogue semantics).

Day 2. Theories of semantic interpretation that allow for incremental composition of meaning; description-based theories of syntactic and semantic underspecification.

Day 3. Disambiguation as defeasible reasoning. Incrementality and underspecification in lexical processing:

Day 4. Incrementality and underspecification in anaphoric processing:

Day 5. Other aspects of semantic disambiguation (scope, ellipsis). Other theories of underspecification.


The main technical tools used in the course are Compositional DRT and (Prioritized) Default Logic. Both theories are introduced in the course, but only very briefly; prior exposure would help.


PDFlecture notes


Draft of: Massimo Poesio, Utterance Processing and Semantic Underspecification, CSLI, forthcoming.


Massimo Poesio
Human Communication Research Centre
University of Edinburgh
2 Buccleuch Place
Edinburgh EH8 9LW
Phone: +44 131 650 6988
Fax: +44 131 650 4587