Salvador Mascarenhas
Professeur des Universités

Ecole Normale Supérieure
Department of Cognitive Studies
29 rue d'Ulm, room PJ005
75005 Paris, France


I am a Professeur des universités (“full professor” in the US system) at Ecole Normale Supérieure’s Department of Cognitive Studies (DEC), and a member of Institut Jean-Nicod. I got my PhD at New York University’s Department of Linguistics in 2014, where I wrote a dissertation on the relationship between human reasoning, natural language semantics, and the philosophy of language. Between 2014 and 2016, I was a Junior Research Fellow at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, affiliated with the Faculty of Philosophy. My work is currently funded by Agence Nationale de la Recherche’s grant ANR-19-P3IA-0001 (PRAIRIE 3IA Institute).


Research in linguistic semantics and the philosophy of language in the past forty years has produced sophisticated mathematical models that represent the meanings of natural language utterances and explain how meanings relate to one another to form entailment patterns. At the same time, research on human reasoning within psychology has discovered a wealth of fallacious inference patterns, establishing that human reasoning is fallible in highly predictable ways. The psychological study of reasoning has been characterized by extensive experimental work analyzed in terms of theories focusing on the processes of reasoning. On the other hand, linguistic semantics has a longstanding tradition of formal rigor and a focus on logical thinking, but it has so far largely ignored fallacies. The two fields overlap significantly, but they have progressed almost completely in parallel, with little interaction. The main aim of my research is to fill that gap by extending linguistic semantics to the study of human reasoning.

My approach has two main components. The first involves recasting the account of human reasoning known as mental model theory in a formally explicit system, incorporating relevant insights from my work on inquisitive semantics. Together with Philipp Koralus I have developed a version of mental-models theory that locates the origin of reasoning failures in a question-asking and answering process. The second component is an interpretation-based theory of (some) reasoning failures that explains these failures in terms of modern theories of implicature. This second theory contrasts with its reasoning-based competitors in that it assumes as a working hypothesis a logically sound reasoning module that operates on interpretations more complex than meets the eye.

From these two rigorously defined theories, different predictions emerge. These predictions allow for a comparison between the two theories, providing a principled way to tease apart the contributions of general-purpose reasoning mechanisms and of interpretive procedures in our failures of reasoning.

I also have an active interest in, and have worked on, the following topics in semantics and philosophy of language

  • the semantics of natural language questions and erotetic logics;

  • dialog coherence in the pragmatics of questions and answers;

  • dynamic semantics for anaphora and presupposition;

  • alternative semantics for indefinites and disjunction;

  • positive polarity and free choice.

Articles and manuscripts

  • 2024
    • Functional rule inference from causal selection explanations. With Nicolas Navarre, Can Konuk, and Neil Bramley. Forthcoming in Proceedings of the 46th Annual Cognitive Science Society Meeting. (preprint: [PsyArXiv])
    • Effects of causal structure and evidential impact on probabilistic reasoning. With Can Konuk and Nicolas Navarre. Forthcoming in Proceedings of the 46th Annual Cognitive Science Society Meeting. (preprint: [PsyArXiv])
  • 2023
    • Fodor and Pylyshyn’s systematicity challenge still stands: A reply to Lake and Baroni (2023). With Michael Goodale. (manuscript under review: [lingbuzz])
    • Systematic polysemy in adjective-noun combination in contextual word embeddings. With Michael Goodale. (manuscript: [lingbuzz])
    • Plural causes in causal judgment. With Can Konuk, Michael Goodale, and Tadeg Quillien. Proceedings of the 45th Annual Cognitive Science Society Meeting. (preprint: [PsyArXiv])
    • The conjunction fallacy: Confirmation or relevance? With WooJin Chung, Kevin Dorst, and Matthew Mandelkern. (manuscript under review, revised May 2024: [PsyArXiv])
    • Modality, expected utility, and hypothesis testing. With WooJin Chung. Synthese 202:11. (preprint: [lingbuzz])
    • Super Linguistics: an Introduction. With Pritty Patel-Grosz, Philippe Schlenker, and Emmanuel Chemla. Linguistics and Philosophy. (preprint: [lingbuzz])
  • 2022
    • Question-answer dynamics in deductive fallacies without language. With WooJin Chung, Nadine Bade, and Sam Blanc-Cuenca. Proceedings of the 44th Annual Cognitive Science Society Meeting, presented as a talk. (preprint: [PsyArXiv])
    • Alternatives and attention in language and reasoning: the case of modals. With Nadine Bade, Léo Picat, and WooJin Chung. Semantics & Pragmatics 15:2. (open access: [Semantics & Pragmatics])
  • 2021
    • Insights into pragmatic strengthening from a new training paradigm. With Nadine Bade, WooJin Chung, Léo Picat, and Rachel Dudley. (manuscript under review, revised February 2024: [lingbuzz])
    • Question-answer dynamics and confirmation theory in reasoning by representativeness. With Mathias Sablé-Meyer and Janek Guerrini. (manuscript under review: [PsyArXiv])
    • A note on the cardinalities of sets of scalar alternatives. Journal of Semantics 28:3, pp. 475–482. (preprint: [lingbuzz])
    • Indirect illusory inferences from disjunction: a new bridge between deductive inference and representativeness. With Mathias Sablé-Meyer. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 12:2. (preprint: [PsyArXiv])
  • 2020
    • On the interplay between interpretation and reasoning in compelling fallacies. With Léo Picat. (manuscript under review, revised May 2024: [PsyArXiv])
  • 2019
    • Assessing the role of matching bias in reasoning with disjunctions. With Mathias Sablé-Meyer. Poster presented at the 41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. (poster: [.pdf])
    • ‘Might’ as a generator of alternatives: the view from reasoning. With Léo Picat. Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 29. (preprint: [.pdf])
    • Review of Mercier and Sperber’s The Enigma of Reason. In Symposium on the Enigma of Reason. Teorema, 38:1, pp. 97–106. (preprint: [.pdf])
  • 2018
    • Illusory Inferences in a question-based theory of reasoning. With Philipp Koralus. In Pragmatics, Truth, and Underspecification: Towards an Atlas of Meaning (eds. Ken Turner and Laurence Horn), volume 34 of Current Research in the Semantics/Pragmatics Interface, chapter 10, pages 300–322. Leiden: Brill. (preprint: [.pdf])
    • Reasoning with disjunctions as a form of hypothesis testing. With Mathias Sablé-Meyer. Talk given at LPPRD Seminar, St Catherine’s College, Oxford. (handout with much that hasn’t been published: [.pdf])
  • 2017
    • Illusory inferences with quantifiers. With Philipp Koralus. Thinking and Reasoning, 23:1, pp. 33–48. (preprint: [.pdf])
  • 2015
    • Illusory inferences: disjunctions, indefinites, and the erotetic theory of reasoning. With Philipp Koralus. Proceedings of the 37th Annual Cognitive Science Society Meeting. [.pdf]
  • 2014
    • Complementizer doubling in European Portuguese. Rivista di grammatica generativa: Research in Generative Grammar, 36, pp. 105–116. (preprint: [.pdf])
    • Formal Semantics and the Psychology of Reasoning: Building new bridges and investigating interactions. PhD dissertation, New York University. [.pdf]
  • 2013
    • An interpretation-based account of illusory inferences from disjunction. Talk given at Sinn und Bedeutung 18. (handout: [.pdf])
    • The erotetic theory of reasoning. With Philipp Koralus. Philosophical Perspectives vol 27, pp. 312–365. (preprint: [.pdf])
  • 2011
    • Licensing by modification: the case of positive polarity pronouns. In Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 16. [.pdf]
  • 2010
    • Causing-to-have vs. having-for: the syntax of double-object get. Qualifying Paper, New York University. [.pdf]
    • Contextual givenness vs. existential quantification. Talk given at MACSIM: Mid-Atlantic Colloquium of Studies in Meaning, Upenn. (handout: [.pdf])
  • 2009
    • Inquisitive Semantics and Logic. MSc in Logic thesis, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation. [.pdf]


Fall 2024


Lectures on Fridays 5pm–7pm, room TBA; plus TA session (travaux dirigés) Mondays 8.30am–9.30am or Tuesdays 9.30am–10.30am, rooms TBA. There are no TA sessions the first week of classes.

Course description

This course is an introduction to the principled study of human natural language. Our chief interest and goal is to examine mathematically rigorous theories of (fragments of) the human cognitive capacity for language. To this end, we will introduce the fundamental concepts and theories in phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. We will discuss in some detail the philosophical foundations for the study of human language from this cognitive and mathematically intelligible perspective: Are all of the formal symbols that occur in our theories somehow in the head?

In less detail due to time constraints, we will also introduce classics and in some cases illustrate recent work on the neurobiological bases of human language (neurolinguistics), the specifics of how the human capacity for language is deployed by humans in language production and comprehension (psycholinguistics), how children learn their native language effortlessly and with no substantive instruction (language acquisition), and what the points of contact and divergence are between the human faculty for language and the impressive behavioral achievements of modern large language models.


The course has no prerequisites, in particular this course does not presuppose any background in traditional grammar besides what you will have inevitably seen in high school, or any background in formal language theory or related topics.

First lecture

The course starts on Friday September 20. Note that there are no TA sessions this first week of classes. TA sessions begin on the week of September 23.

Assessment (validation)

  1. weekly homework assignments (60%);

  2. a final exam (30%);

  3. attendance and participation in discussions in class and TD (10%).

Spring 2025

Check this page again in September 2024!

Semantics TBA

Elementary metalogic TBC