Igor Yanovich

postdoctoral researcher

DFG Center for Advanced Study "Words, Bones, Genes and Tools", Universität Tübingen


University of Tübingen

DFG Center "Words, Bones, Genes and Tools"

Rümelinstraße 23

72070 Tübingen, Germany

igor.yanovich at uni-tuebingen dot de

Curriculum Vitae (pdf)



My area of specialization is in formal and computational methods, especially applied to formal semantics and historical linguistics.

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 computational historical linguistics, I apply population-genetic methods to the modeling of language change, do computational phylogenetic analyses (and am 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.

In formal semantics, my latest series of works concerns modality. I have proposed 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 am particularly interested in how modal meanings change over time; how multiply ambiguous modal words function in everyday speech; how the modal systems of languages in contact situations influence each other; and what this all means for treatments of modality within semantics and philosophy of language. Aside from modals, I have also worked on the expressive power of backwards-looking operators like "now", de re attitudes, gender presuppositions of anaphoric pronouns, and indefinites.

I am a part of an emerging interest group for historical formal semantics. Information on the latest yearly workshop by the group, held in Konstanz in Sept. 2016, can be found here. Puzzles in historical semantics are relatively easy to find, but the formal methods needed to solve many of those are only starting to be developed. My two main lines of attack in this area are: tracking semantic change with high temporal resolution, at the level of decades; and applying novel methods for historical linguistics, including evolutionary game theory, population-genetic analysis of historical trajectories, and computational phylogenetics. High-resolution research allows us to discover otherwise indiscernible phenomena, such as a variable-force modal in Old English. Novel computational methods help to explicitly work through the linguistic assumptions about change, and sometimes derive novel and unexpected empirical predictions.

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