Greg Carlson

Greg Carlson


  • Professor Emeritus of Linguistics

PhD, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1977

Office Hours: By appointment

Curriculum Vitae

Research Overview

I am not currently accepting PhD students

My main research program centers on the semantics of "generic" sentences—sentences expressing generalizations such as "Birds fly." This topic includes not only how to represent their meanings in a formal system in some general way, but other questions that bear on this overall task. One offshoot concerns the syntax and semantics of determinerless noun phrases, including bare plurals and mass terms, as well as the "generic" readings of such expressions as "the tiger" or "a student." I am most interested in the idea that that determinerless NP's make direct reference to kinds. Another outgrowth of this work concerns cross-linguistic verbal and nominal morphology, since languages have different formal means of expressing genericity, which can give us vital clues to how to represent their meanings in general, and clues to the place they might occupy in AI knowledge representation (in this I collaborate with Lenhart Schubert of computer science).

Still another area of investigation concerns the proper treatment of the "Stage-level/Individual-level" distinction among natural language predicates. The study of the character of generics has also caused me to consider their functioning in discourse and hence into the areas of tense and aspect, which in turn interact strongly with genericity. The study of generics brings up philosophical issues as well, such as the problem of induction, the character of dispositions, the question of the existence of events, the nature of sortals, etc., and in this I have benefited from a longstanding collaboration with F. J. Pelletier, currently at Simon Fraser University. I also have interests stemming from work on event semantics concerning the nature of "thematic roles" associated with verb meanings. The problem with "thematic roles" is that their linguistic status is uncertain in that formal indications of roles are very weak and do not allow us to easily enumerate and individuate roles. Nevertheless, they are useful and insightful constructs. Not quite so closely related to the study of generics is an interest and contributions to the question of how to represent "free-choice" any in a formal semantics, the nature of the adjectives same and different, and a type of relative clause construction commonly called "amount relatives."

My final area of research, in psycholinguistics, is carried out entirely collaboratively. My work in psycholinguistics began in graduate school (on language acquisition), and then transformed into a long-standing collaboration with psycholinguist Michael K. Tanenhaus and many graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, centering on the character of sentence processing. Recently it has begun to change into work on semantic and pragmatic processing. One focus of the experimental work has been on lexical structure, and the question of what information is accessed in processing upon recognizing a word, whether in print or when spoken. Some of this has concerned thematic roles, but also this has gotten into other aspects of argument structure and lexical meanings. This line of work has also taken in the question of the representation of "deletion" phenomena, including Verb Phrase deletion in English, and the character of "deleted" Noun Phrases. One aspect of this work has also considered experimental techniques for examining discourse structures, and the organization of information used in forming a discourse. Beyond these main research agendas, I have over the years made occasional contributions to natural language syntax and morphology, language acquisition, and the nature of the field of linguistics.

Research Interests

  • Semantic Theory
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Discourse

Selected Publications

Experimental Psycholinguistics

  • Chambers, G.C., M.K. Tanenhaus, K.M. Eberhard, H. Filip, G.N. Carlson (2002). Circumscribing referential domains during real time language comprehension. Journal of Memory and Language 47, 30-49. [pdf]
  • Filip, H., M.K. Tanenhaus, G.N. Carlson, P.A. Allopenna & J. Blatt (2002). Reduced relatives judged hard require constraint-based analyses. In Merlo, P., & Stevenson, S. (eds.) The Lexical basis of sentence processing. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 255-280. [pdf]
  • Sedivy, J., C. Chambers, M. Tanenhaus, and G. Carlson (1997). Systematic use of context in the online interpretation of adjectives. Proceedings of the 1997 Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. [pdf]
  • Sedivy, J., M. Tanenhaus, C. Chambers, and G. Carlson. (1999). Achieving incremental processing through contextual representation: Evidence from the processing of adjectives. Cognition. 71, 109-147. [pdf]
  • Tanenhaus, M.K. and G.N. Carlson (1990). Comprehension of Deep and Surface Verb Phrase Anaphors. Language and Cognitive Processes 5: 257-80. [pdf]

Semantic incorporation and interpretation in layers

  • Carlson, G. (2006). The meaningful bounds of incorporation. In S. Vogeleer and L. Tasmowski (eds.), Non-Definiteness and Plurality. In the Linguistik Aktuell series. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 35-50. [pdf]
  • G. Carlson (2004). When morphology...disappears. In C. Orhan Orgun and Peter Sells (eds.) Morphology and the Web of Grammar. CSLI. 1-23. [pdf]
  • Carlson, G. (2003). Weak Indefinites. In Vol 1 From NP to DP: on the syntax and Pragma-Semantics of Noun Phrases. Martine Coene and Yves D'Hulst, eds. Benjamins. 195-210. [pdf]
  • Carlson, G. (2003). Interpretive Asymmetries in Major Phrases. In A-M. DiSciullo (ed.) Asymmetry in Linguistic Theory. Benjamins. 299-311. [pdf]
  • Carlson, G. and R. Sussman (2005). Seemingly indefinite definites. In S. Kepsar and M. Reis (eds.) Linguistic Evidence: Empirical, theoretical, and computational perspectives. Berlin: de Gruyter. 71-86. [pdf]

Generics and kind reference

  • Carlson, G. (in press). Generics and concepts. To appear in F. J. Pelletier (ed.) Kinds, Things and Stuff. In the New Directions in Cognitive Science series, Oxford. [pdf]
  • Carlson, G. (2005). Generics, Habituals and Iteratives. In The Encyclopedia of Language andLinguistics, 2nd Ed. Elsevier. [pdf]
  • Carlson, G. (2005). Generic Reference. In The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd Ed. Elsevier. [pdf]
  • Carlson G. (2005). Generics, Habituals and Iteratives. In The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd Ed. Elsevier. [pdf]
  • Carlson, G. (2003). No lack of determination. In L. Cheng and R. Sybesma, (eds.), The second Glot International State-of-the-article book: the latest in linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 149-178. [pdf]

Thematic roles

  • Carlson G. (1998). Thematic roles and the individuation of events. In S. Rothstein (ed). Events and Grammar. Kluwer. pp 35-51. [pdf]
  • Carlson, G. (1984). Thematic Roles and their Role in Semantic Interpretation. Linguistics 22, pp. 259-279. [pdf]
  • Carlson, G. and M. Tanenhaus (1988). Thematic Roles and Language Comprehension. In W. Wilkins, (ed.), Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 21: Thematic Relations, Academic Press, pp. 263-89. [pdf]

Other works

  • G. Carlson (2006). 'Mismatches' of form and interpretation. In V. van Geenhoven (ed), Semantics in Acquisition. Berlin: de Gruyter. 19-36. [pdf]
  • G. Carlson and G-L Storto (2006). Sherlock Holmes was in no danger. In B. Birner and G. Ward (eds.) Drawing the boundaries of meaning: Neo-Gricean studies in pragmatics and semantics in honor of Laurence R. Horn. Amsterdam: Benjamins. Pp 59-76. [pdf]
  • Carlson, G. (2004). Reference. In L. Horn and G. Ward (eds.). Handbook of Pragmatics. Blackwell, 74-96. [pdf]
  • Carlson, G. (2003). On the notion 'showing something'. In J. Moore and M. Polinsky (eds.). The Nature of Explanation in Linguistic Theory, CSLI. 69-82. [pdf]
  • Carlson, G. (2003). Anaphora. Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. Nature Publishing. [pdf]