Salvador Mascarenhas
Assistant Professor

Ecole Normale Supérieure
Department of Cognitive Studies
29 rue d'Ulm, room 227
75005 Paris, France

salvador [dot]
mascarenhas [at] ens [dot] fr


I am an Assistant Professor 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 with 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. For this part of my research I collaborate with Philipp Koralus. Together we are developing a version of mental model 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 masoning.

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.

Finally, I have worked on phonology—vowel-height alternations in the European Portuguese verbal system—and syntax—double-complementizer structures and double object get.

Papers and handouts

Below is a select list of publications, manuscripts, and talks I have given, with links to pdf versions of papers or handouts. Please see my CV for a complete list.

  • 2016
    • Illusory Inferences in a question-based theory of reasoning. With Philipp Koralus. Forthcoming in Current Research in the Semantics / Pragmatics Interface. (preprint will be linked to as soon as possible)
    • Illusory inferences with quantifiers. With Philipp Koralus. Forthcoming in Thinking and Reasoning. (preprint: [.pdf])
  • 2015
    • Illusory inferences: disjunctions, indefinites, and the erotetic theory of reasoning. With Philipp Koralus. Presented at the 37th Annual Cognitive Science Society Meeting CogSci 2015, published in conference proceedings. [.pdf]
    • Complementizer doubling in European Portuguese. Forthcoming in Rivista di grammatica generativa. (preprint: [.pdf])
  • 2014
    • 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 available here: [.pdf])
  • 2009
    • Inquisitive Semantics and Logic. MSc in Logic thesis. Amsterdam: Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation. [.pdf]

Teaching / Enseignement

2016-2017 Semestre 2

CA2 Sémantique intensive: approches formelles et expérimentales

Jeudi de 10h à 13h, plus TD lundi 17h. NB: la langue d'enseignement sera l'anglais

Course website

The course's website contains all lecture materials and homework assignments. It is password protected, please email the instructor if you need access.

Course description

This course is a fast-paced introduction to natural language semantics and pragmatics, focusing on a formal perspective informed by experimental methodologies. The course is divided into the three modules briefly described below. For each topic, we will start with formal theories and conclude with relevant experimental results. (NB the three modules do not divide lecture time evenly. The course will focus on the introductory module on extensional semantics.)

  • Module I (60% of lectures): Introduction to semantics and pragmatics
    Topics: extensional semantics, compositionality, predication and modification, pronouns and quantification, polarity, pragmatics with a focus on scalar implicature
  • Module II (20% of lectures): A brief survey of intensional semantics
    Topics: modality, propositional attitudes, mood
  • Module III (20% of lectures): Beyond truth conditions
    Topics: dynamic approaches to meaning, questions and commands

Assessment (validation)

  • weekly homework assignments (60%);
  • a writing exercise (30%): students will write a 2- to 3-page document describing an original project (formal or experimental) in conference-abstract format;
  • participation in discussions in class and TD (10%): note that the TD sessions for this course are compulsory for all students registered for credit (validation). If you want to take this course for credit but cannot attend the TD please contact the instructor well before the course starts. Exceptions to the TD policy will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

B06 Langues naturelles et langages formels

This 8-week course is an overview of topics in formal logic that are of use to the practicing linguist, with a special focus on formal languages. Topics include the following.

  • Fun with the syntax of propositional logic
  • Formal language theory
  • Structures, algebras, orderings, some model theory
  • Modal logics, dynamic logics
  • Game-theoretic models of linguistic phenomena

Course website

The course's website contains readings, a brief description of the work done in each lecture, and all homework assignments. It is password protected, please email the instructor if you need access.