Salvador Mascarenhas
Assistant Professor

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


I am an Assistant Professor at Ecole Normale Supérieure’s Department of Cognitive Studies (DEC), a member of Institut Jean-Nicod, and the principal investigator in the Agence Nationale de Recherche grant Between Language and Reasoning. 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.


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


Spring 2021

LING-202 Semantics I

Fridays 9.30am–11.30am, tentatively in Salle Ribot on 29 Ulm, or online. TA sessions TBA (TA sessions are mandatory for students who want to take the course for credit (“validation”).

Course description

This course is a fast-paced introduction to natural language semantics and pragmatics. The course is divided into the following three modules, the first of which constitutes the bulk of the course.

  1. Introduction to semantics and pragmatics (80%)
    Extensional semantics; compositionality; predication and modification; pronouns and quantification; presupposition; scalar implicature

  2. A brief survey of intensional semantics (10%)
    Limitations of extensional approaches; modality; propositional attitudes

  3. Beyond truth conditions (10%)
    Dynamic approaches to meaning; questions and commands


An introduction to linguistics, some background in logic, or permission of the instructor.


  • weekly homework assignments (80%)

  • participation in discussion in class and TA sessions (20%): if you want to take this course for credit but cannot attend the TA sessions please write to the instructor as soon as possible

Probabilities in pragmatics and reasoning

with Benjamin Spector

Wednesdays 2pm–4pm, tentatively in the seminar room in Pavillon Jardin on 29 Ulm, or online.

Course description

Linguistic pragmatics and the psychology of reasoning are different yet related fields. On the one hand, linguistic pragmatics studies a specific type of reasoning, namely reasoning about speakers’ communicative intentions. On the other hand, the psychology of reasoning investigates how humans derive conclusions from various pieces of information, almost always provided in a linguistic format. Some deviations from normative logic can be explained in terms of linguistic processes that interfere with deductive reasoning. In both domains, the most classical approach is to model human reasoning as a deductive process. However, more recently, several theories have treated both pragmatic inferences and general-purpose reasoning as involving probabilistic inferences in an essential way. This view has led to new perspectives on the core questions and phenomena of both fields.

The goal of this course is to introduce students to probabilistic models of reasoning and pragmatics, and to discuss recent proposals in this domain. We will focus, in particular, on the role of Bayesian reasoning in pragmatics and general-purpose reasoning, as well as the influence of prior probabilities in both domains. The seminar will consist of lectures and discussions of papers and student projects.


This is an advanced seminar targeting graduate students (MA and PhD) in cognitive science, linguistics, philosophy and related fields. We will expect

  • familiarity with logic or linguistic semantics,
  • high-school level knowledge of probability theory.

If you’re not sure you satisfy these prerequisites, please contact the instructors to check.


Students will get credit for this class by developing a personal research project which will result in a 4/5-page paper. The project might be an original research project, a review of the literature, an implementation of a model discussed in the literature, etc. Students registered for credit will be expected to do the regular readings for the course and come prepared for in-class discussion.

Fall 2020

LING-302 Semantics II

Thursdays 2pm–4pm, provisionally salle séminaire du DEC on 29 Ulm.

Course description

This is the second module on natural language semantics offered at the Department of Cognitive Studies. We will cover advanced topics in semantics that weren’t covered in Semantics I, and we will revisit topics from Semantics I under a new light. We will cover the following broad topics.

  • Quantification
  • Dynamic and update semantics
  • Intentional semantics: propositional attitudes, modals, conditionals
  • Meaning beyond declaratives: questions and imperatives


Semantics I, or permission of the instructor


  1. a small number of homework assignments (4 or 5)
  2. discussion of primary readings in class
  3. term paper (8–16 pages)

COGSCI-302 Super Semantics

with Philippe Schlenker and Emmanuel Chemla

Mondays 2pm–4.30pm, provisionally salle Ribot on 29 Ulm.

Course description

While formal semantics has been a success story of contemporary linguistics, it has been narrowly focused on spoken language. Systematic extensions of its research program have recently been explored: beyond spoken language, beyond human language, beyond language proper, and even beyond systems with an overt syntax. First, the development of sign language semantics calls for systems that integrate logical semantics with a rich iconic component. This semantics-with-iconicity is also crucial to understand the interaction between co-speech gestures and logical operators, an important point of comparison for sign languages. Second, several recent articles have proposed analyses of the semantics/pragmatics of primate alarm calls, an important topical extension of semantics. Third, recent research has developed a semantics/pragmatics for music, based in part on insights from iconic semantics. Finally, the methods of formal semantics have newly been applied to reasoning and to concepts, which do not have a syntax that can be directly observed. The overall result is a far broader typology of meaning operations in nature than was available a few years ago. The course will offer a survey of some of these results.


Students should have an ability to follow formal analyses, and they should thus have taken a serious introduction to formal logic or to formal semantics, or have significant experience with mathematical theories. If in doubt, please check with the instructors.


  • two two-page squibs (short discussions) due early in the semester; squib #2 will ideally be a term-paper outline
  • Term paper