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Forests and Trees: the Formal Semantics of Collective Categorization

Total Cost €


EC-Contrib. €






Project "ROCKY" data sheet

The following table provides information about the project.


Organization address
postcode: 3584 CS

contact info
title: n.a.
name: n.a.
surname: n.a.
function: n.a.
email: n.a.
telephone: n.a.
fax: n.a.

 Coordinator Country Netherlands [NL]
 Total cost 2˙494˙278 €
 EC max contribution 2˙494˙278 € (100%)
 Programme 1. H2020-EU.1.1. (EXCELLENT SCIENCE - European Research Council (ERC))
 Code Call ERC-2016-ADG
 Funding Scheme ERC-ADG
 Starting year 2017
 Duration (year-month-day) from 2017-11-01   to  2022-10-31


Take a look of project's partnership.

# participants  country  role  EC contrib. [€] 
1    UNIVERSITEIT UTRECHT NL (UTRECHT) coordinator 2˙342˙875.00
2    CITY UNIVERSITY OF LONDON UK (LONDON) participant 151˙403.00


 Project objective

Languages have various ways of referring to collections like families, herds and forests. The grammatical properties of collective expressions critically determine how we understand them. The sentences “this forest is old” and “these trees are old” categorize an arboreal collection using a concept (“old”), while conveying different meanings. This semantic difference correlates with the difference in grammatical number between the sentences: singular vs. plural. Such effects of collective categorization in language are crucial for understanding the connections between grammar and the mind, as well as for artificial intelligence. However, currently little is known about the mechanisms underlying our linguistic ability to conceptualize collections. This project aims to develop a novel linguistic theory of this ability, applied to a wide range of empirical phenomena and interdisciplinary challenges in computational semantics and comparative linguistics, benefiting from the recent synergy between linguistics and the psychology of concepts. The idea is that when classifying a collection, speakers rely on two inferential principles with mental concepts: (i) geometric inferences: a forest is considered “far away” if all of its trees are far; (ii) symmetric inferences: two trees are “similar” if each of them is similar to the other. The leading hypothesis is that uniform interactions between these inferential principles and the grammar of collective expressions account for collective categorization in language. This hypothesis is explored in three work packages, each of which develops the semantic theory and evaluates it on a different interdisciplinary domain: human interaction with geographic information systems, behavioral linguistic experiments, and comparative linguistics. Together, the three components of the project are expected to lead to a theoretical breakthrough in semantic theory and to enrich its interdisciplinary connections with neighboring disciplines.


year authors and title journal last update
List of publications.
2018 Yoad Winter
Symmetric predicates and the semantics of reciprocal alternations
published pages: 1, ISSN: 1937-8912, DOI: 10.3765/sp.11.1
Semantics and Pragmatics 11/1 2019-07-19
2018 Eva B. Poortman, Marijn E. Struiksma, Nir Kerem, Naama Friedmann, Yoad Winter
Reciprocal expressions and the Maximal Typicality Hypothesis
published pages: 18, ISSN: 2397-1835, DOI: 10.5334/gjgl.180
Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 3/1 2019-07-19

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