Brian Buccola

Department of Linguistics
McGill University
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Brian Buccola

Brian Buccola


I am a Ph.D. student in linguistics at McGill University. My research interests primarily include formal semantics, pragmatics, phonology, and computational linguistics.

My dissertation, supervised by Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Bernhard Schwarz, investigates the source of downward monotonicity (DM) of modified numerals like less than five. The standard claim is that the DM we intuitively observe in Less than five dogs barked is due primarily to the lexical meaning of less than, which involves some standard kind of maximality operator that applies obligatorily. I argue for a more fine-grained view: DM arises from a special interaction between not only the lexical semantics of the numeral modifier and a (potentially non-lexical and optional) maximality operator, but also the distributivity properties of the nominal and verbal predicates it combines with and an operation of existential closure. When this interaction does not obtain, e.g. when one of the predicates is non-distributive (Less than five guests drank more than twenty beers), and/or when the sentence is interpreted generically instead of existentially (Less than five students could carry that piano upstairs), then less than five actually behaves upward monotonically.

In addition to my doctoral research, I have also worked on ignorance inferences associated with superlative numeral/scalar modifiers like at least and at most, as well as on the semantic and pragmatic differences between at most and up to.

I am also interested in the formal properties of formal grammars. I have worked in particular on the differences in generative capacity between Optimality Theory and ordered rewrite rules.

Apart from linguistics, I enjoy tinkering with Linux, learning about functional programming (like Haskell), and (when I have time) brewing beer. I have a personal blog where I write about language, math, Linux, and other random stuff that comes to mind.