LingLang Lunch (3/1/2017): Steve Emet (Brown University)

Steve Emet’s research interests are in semantics and syntax. Previously, he has worked on the semantics of Negative Polarity Items (NPIs) in embedded contexts.

I just think… : the meaning of just and its role in discourse

This talk will be focused on the meaning and use of the English word just. Previous accounts have treated just as primarily an exclusive operator along the lines of only, albeit with a wider range of application. In some uses, just is very close to only.  However, unlike only, just operates primarily at the discourse level. I elaborate this using data from the Switchboard corpus. The usage of just displays significant effects for gender age, with females and younger individuals more likely to use it, a pattern consistent with other linguistic trends. The corpus data also reveal differences between just and only that haven’t been focused on in previous literature. Just is significantly more likely than only to occur with psychological verbs such as think.  To explain this, I describe a usage of just which I call “conclusive just” or “all-things-considered just“, where just is used to convey a final, settled point-of-view, despite potentially countervailing considerations. This usage is related to but distinct from deprecatory and emphatic uses of just, and contributes to the frequent occurrence of just with psychological verbs.