Igor Yanovich

principal investigator, DFG Emmy Noether research group "Modal systems in the historical Slavic languages"

associate member of the DFG Center for Advanced Study "Words, Bones, Genes and Tools"


University of Tübingen

Seminar für Sprachwissenschaft

Wilhelmstraße 19

72074 Tübingen, Germany

igor.yanovich at uni-tuebingen dot de

Curriculum Vitae (pdf)



I am a computational historical linguist, with interests in evolutionary approaches to language change, linguistic phylogenetics, semantics and pragmatics, and interdisciplinary collaborations for uncovering the multifaceted past of human communities. I apply population-genetic methods to the modeling of language change, do computational phylogenetic analyses and study their reliability (and have been an associate at the EVOLAEMP project), use evolutionary game theory, and am exploring ways to apply model-based historical inference methods to dialectal data, which to my knowledge has never been done before.

I am currently leading an Emmy Noether research group "Modal systems in the historical Slavic languages: formal semantics, micro-variation, language change and language contact", funded by the German Research Foundation and hosted at the University of Tübingen.

I want computational methods to become better integrated into basic linguistic research. We are experiencing a shift towards greater amounts of available data across all subfields in linguistics, and it is important to keep up with that trend by importing old and developing new techniques for data analysis, computer simulation, and computational modeling. In my research, using formal and computational methods has helped many times. Through my teaching, I try to help students acquire a wide toolkit of mathematical methods to help in their work.

In formal semantics and pragmatics, I am currently concerned with how ambiguity functions on the grammatical side of language. There are two problem areas I am investigating. First, some patterns of historical development (including changes experienced under language contact) of ambiguous morphemes and grammatical words such as modals strongly suggest that the standard logical analysis of ambiguity is insufficient. Under the standard model, we account for ambiguity by simply postulating several alternative meanings for the same item. However, the data suggest that in the speakers' minds, there are also non-trivial second-order connections between some of the meanings which go beyond their truth-conditional contribution. The second problem area is the functioning of ambiguous items in a community of speakers, with a particular focus on how the range of their meanings may change over time. To make progress in both problem areas, more fine-grained data on the actual use of ambiguous items are needed. I am working on collecting such data from historical texts and corpora for historical Slavic modals and future markers, the development of the progressive in English, and on English subject to. On the theoretical side, my work grounded in mathematical population genetics and evolutionary game theory is helpful for modeling language change on the community level.

My previous work in semantics includes a series of studies on modality: a new contextualist analysis of epistemic modality, and argued for recognizing new types of modals: symbouletic modals of suggestion, and a "collapse variable-force" modal in Old English. I have also worked on the expressive power of backwards-looking operators like "now", de re attitudes, gender presuppositions of anaphoric pronouns, and indefinites.

Sometimes I also do phonology, which led to new results in mathematical Optimality Theory, as well as finding out together with Donca Steriade (using Ukrainian and Russian data) that Base Priority effects also work within inflectional paradigms.

Selected papers are described below, grouped by topic. The CV contains the full list.

Recent and upcoming talks and mini-courses

Selected papers

Papers are grouped by major topics: computational historical linguistics, corpus linguistics, modality, modal logic, counterfactual de re, gender presuppositions, indefinites, phonology of paradigms, mathematical phonology. There is also a brief description of my 2013 dissertation.
Computational historical linguistics
Corpus linguistics
Modal logic
Counterfactual de re
Gender presuppositions of anaphoric pronouns
Base Priority effects and inflectional morphology
Mathematical Optimality Theory
Dissertation: Four pieces for modality, context and usage
My dissertation consisted of four largely independent chapters on the semantics of different modals united by the common methodology of studying modal statements with a focus on their extralinguistic, practical context, and their history in a language.

What is good in the dissertation would not have existed without my MIT teachers and advisors, who helped me become the researcher I am today. The direct influence of my dissertation advisors Kai von Fintel, Irene Heim and Sabine Iatridou on the text would be evident for the reader. But beyond the dissertation advising, without their help and support over all my five years at MIT, I would not have grown into a linguist I am now. It is very much thanks to Kai, Irene and Sabine that I learned to be guided by empirical data, be ready to see beyond my current theoretical convictions, and also to be cautious when drawing theoretical inferences from observed data. I am also very grateful to my other MIT teachers, especially to Adam Albright, who served as my registration advisor for all my time at MIT; Donca Steriade, who infected me with excitement about phonology; and Martin Hackl, who taught me a lot about what a teacher needs to know.

Teaching materials