sarah e. murray


research interests

formal semantics and pragmatics

My primary interests are the semantics and pragmatics of natural language, specifically what sorts of formal representations are needed to analyze a variety of linguistic structures across grammatically diverse languages.

Cheyenne & fieldwork

I have been doing fieldwork with Cheyenne over the summers since 2006 on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Southeastern Montana (see the Cheyenne page for more information).

In addition, I'm interested in fieldwork and field methods in general, especially the methodology of semantic fieldwork (here is a seminal paper on the topic by Lisa Matthewson). This interest was sparked by a field methods course I took at Wayne State University, where we worked with Ottawa, an Algonquian language (like Cheyenne).

cognitive science & philosophy of language

I completed a Certificate in Cognitive Science along with my Ph.D. at Rutgers. In addition to being actively involved with the Cognitive Science community, I was part of a group doing interdisciplinary research in semantics and worked on a project under the direction of Philosopher Jason Stanley. This project was an in-depth investigation of the relationship between evidentials and epistemic modals, studying the philosophical literature on epistemic modals and using the distinctions and debates developed therein to probe the meaning of evidentials. The project was also aimed at constructing more fine-grained questions for my fieldwork on evidentials.



Evidentials. Invited for Lisa Matthewson, Cécile Meier, Hotze Rullmann, and Thomas Ede Zimmermann (eds.) The Companion to Semantics. Oxford: Wiley.


The Structure of Communicative Acts (with William Starr).


On Binary Features and Disagreeing Natural Classes: Evidence from Cheyenne and Serbian (with Miloje Despić). The Linguistic Review.


A Cyclic and Multiple Agree account: Person/number marking in Cheyenne (with Miloje Despić and Michael David Hamilton). Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.


Force and conversational states (with William Starr). In Daniel Fogal, Daniel Harris, and Matt Moss (eds.), New Work on Speech Acts.


Expressing comparison in Cheyenne (with Todd Snider). In Monica Macaulay & Meg Noodin (eds.) Papers of the 47th Algonquian Conference, Michigan State University Press.


Who has more? The influence of linguistic form on quantity judgment (with Gregory Scontras, Kathryn Davidson, and Amy Rose Deal). In Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America 2(41): 1–15.


Complex connectives. In Semantics and Linguistic Theory 27: 655–679. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.


Multiple and Cyclic Agree: Person/number marking in Cheyenne (with Miloje Despić and Michael David Hamilton). In Proceedings from West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL) 34.


Cheyenne Connectives. In PAC45, Papers of the Forty-Fifth Algonquian Conference, SUNY Press. [ final draft ]


Evidentials and Illocutionary Mood in Cheyenne. In International Journal of American Linguistics. (email me for draft)


Two Imperatives in Cheyenne: Some Preliminary Distinctions. In PAC44, Papers of the Forty-Fourth Algonquian Conference, SUNY Press. [ final draft ]

This paper discusses various restrictions on the use and interpretation of Cheyenne imperatives. In particular, the strong present orientation of immediate imperatives prevents them from occurring in various constructions that delayed imperatives can occur in.


Reciprocity in Fieldwork and Theory. In Ryan Bochnak and Lisa Matthewson (eds.) Methodologies in Semantic Fieldwork. [ final draft ]

Empirical findings from fieldwork inform our theories of natural language semantics: what is cross-linguistically possible, what current theories can and cannot account for, what type of representations we need, and so on. Formally precise analyses can also inform our fieldwork, making predictions that need to be tested in the field and providing novel questions to ask. This interrelationship of fieldwork and theory can be mutually beneficial, symbiotic, producing novel avenues for both fieldwork and analysis. This paper discusses an example of such interplay from the author’s fieldwork on the semantics of the reflexive/reciprocal construction in Cheyenne (Plains Algonquian). New data led to a novel analysis in terms of underspecification, which in turn led to novel discoveries about the possible interpretations of the Cheyenne reflexive/reciprocal marker (Murray 2007, 2008).


Varieties of update. Semantics and Pragmatics, 7(2):1-53. [ paper || bibtex ]

This paper discusses three potential varieties of update: updates to the common ground, structuring updates, and updates that introduce discourse referents. These different types of update are used to model different aspects of natural language phenomena. Not-at-issue information directly updates the common ground. The illocutionary mood of a sentence structures the context. Other updates introduce discourse referents of various types, including propositional discourse referents for at-issue information. Distinguishing these types of update allows a unified treatment of a broad range of phenomena, including the grammatical evidentials found in Cheyenne (Algonquian) as well as English evidential parentheticals, appositives, and mood marking. An update semantics that can formalize all of these varieties of update is given, integrating the different kinds of semantic contributions into a single representation of meaning.


A semantic account of mirative evidentials (with Jessica Rett). In Todd Snider (ed.), Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory 23, 453-472. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications. [ paper || bibtex ]

Many if not all evidential languages have a mirative evidential: an indirect evidential that can, in some contexts, mark mirativity (the expression of speaker surprise) instead of indirect evidence. We address several questions posed by this systematic polysemy: What is the affinity between indirect evidence and speaker surprise? What conditions the two interpretations? And how do mirative evidentials relate to other mirative markers? We propose a unified analysis of mirative evidentials where indirect evidentiality and mirativity involve a common epistemic component. A mirative interpretation requires a close temporal proximity between the speech event and the event of the speaker’s learning the at-issue content.


Quantificational and Illocutionary Variability in Cheyenne. In Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten (ed.), In Proceedings from SULA 6: Semantics of Under-represented Languages of the Americas (2011), 149-170. Amherst, MA: GLSA Publications. [ paper || bibtex ]

In this paper, I discuss the quantificational variability of Cheyenne indeterminates: the variety of interpretations they can receive and the grammatical contexts that condition these interpretations. Building on analyses of indeterminates in other languages, such as Kratzer and Shimoyama 2002, I present a Hamblin-style analysis of Cheyenne indeterminates. The proposal builds on the analysis of declaratives and interrogatives argued for in Murray 2010. This analysis can account for the quantificational variability of indeterminates in the scope of propositional operators as well as the scope of illocutionary mood markers. The analysis is formalized in an independently motivated update semantics (Update with Centering, Bittner 2011), which automatically provides the required alternatives. I also discuss the illocutionary variability of Cheyenne sentences that contain both indeterminates and evidentials: the variety of interpretations they can receive and the discourse contexts that condition these interpretations. The illocutionary variability of Cheyenne sentences can be accounted for by combining the analysis of indeterminates proposed in this paper with the analysis of evidentials developed in Murray 2010.


A Hamblin Semantics for Evidentials. In Ed Cormany, Satoshi Ito, and David Lutz (eds.), Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory 19 (2009), 324-341. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications. [ paper || bibtex ]

It has been noted that sentences with evidentials make two contributions: a ‘propositional’ contribution, which can be directly challenged, and an ‘evidential’ contribution, which cannot be directly challenged. In this paper, I argue this distinction can be thought of as a distinction in assertion between what is at-issue and what is not. The not-at-issue component of assertion is not negotiable: it added directly to the common ground. The at-issue contribution of an assertion, which is up for negotiation, is a proposal to update the common ground. I implement the analysis building on the treatment of declarative and interrogative sentences in Hamblin 1973.


Evidentials and Questions in Cheyenne. In Suzi Lima (ed.), Proceedings of SULA 5: Semantics of Under-represented Languages of the Americas (2009), 139-155. Amherst, MA: GLSA Publications. [ paper || bibtex ]

In Cheyenne, evidentials are part of the illocutionary mood paradigm, in morphological alternation with, e.g., the yes/no interrogative mood. Questions formed with the yes/no interrogative mood are evidentially unspecified -- they can be answered with any evidential. However, there is an alternate strategy for forming yes/no questions: with a clitic, which can co-occur with evidentials. This type of question can only be answered with the evidential specified in the question. In this paper, I extend the analysis presented in Murray 2011 to the two types of yes/no questions and their interaction with evidentials. Under the proposed analysis, Cheyenne evidentials and illocutionary mood markers form a natural semantic class.


Reflexivity and Reciprocity with(out) Underspecification. In Grönn, Atle (ed.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 12 (2007), 455-469. Oslo, Norway: University of Oslo, ILOS. [ paper || bibtex ]

In languages like English, reflexivity and reciprocity are expressed by distinct proforms. However, many languages, such as Cheyenne, express reflexivity and reciprocity with a single proform. In this paper I utilize Dynamic Plural Logic (van den Berg 1996) to a draw a semantic parallel between reflexive and reciprocal anaphors in English. I propose that they contribute overlapping but distinct requirements on the relations introduced by transitive verbs, requirements which fully specify reflexivity and reciprocity. This parallel is then extended to Cheyenne by appealing to underspecification. I propose the Cheyenne affix which expresses both reflexivity and reciprocity contributes only the shared requirement of the English anaphors. It is thus underspecified, not ambiguous. This accounts for its compatibility with both singular and plural antecedents as well as its variety of construals.


Dynamics of Reflexivity and Reciprocity. In Aloni, Maria, Paul Dekker, and Floris Roelofsen (eds). Proceedings of the Sixteenth Amsterdam Colloquium, 157-162. Amsterdam: ILLC/Department of Philosophy, University of Amsterdam. [ paper || bibtex ]

Plural reflexives and reciprocals are anaphoric not only to antecedent pluralities but also to relations between the members of those pluralities. In this paper, I utilize Dynamic Plural Logic (van den Berg 1996) to analyze reflexives and reciprocals as anaphors that elaborate on relations introduced by the verb, which can be collective, cumulative, or distributive. This analysis generalizes to languages like Cheyenne (Algonquian) where reflexivity and reciprocity are expressed by a single proform that I argue is underspecified, not ambiguous.


The African Anaphora Project. In: Workshop Proceedings, Networking the Development of Language Resources for African Languages, LREC; Genoa, Italy. With Ken Safir, Andrei Anghelescu, and Jessica Rett.

The goal of the African Anaphora Project is threefold: to elicit a research-directed database of African language data, which is collected and analyzed with native speaker linguist consultants; to organize and present this collected data in a manner such that it is as widely accessible as possible; and, to provide a forum where project directors, consultants, linguists, and in general anyone interested in African languages or linguistics can share an interactive community research space. The achievement of these goals necessitates the development of an interactive, dynamic site capable of allowing many users with many different objectives to access, input, edit, search, and browse data. Such an implementation requires sophisticated language resources, such as a site management component, a data storage component, and a query component, as well as a tool to input and display Unicode correctly, and tools to export the data in a variety of formats. It is our hope that our project design and our technical implementation will be generalizable to other projects that seek to collect complex linguistic data online and make it available to online users.



Unstructured content, structured context. Paper presented at a workshop on unstructured content, Rutgers University, by Dirk Kindermann and Andy Egan. Ms, Cornell University. (email me for draft)


The Structure of Communicative Acts (with William Starr). MS, Cornell. (email me for draft)


The Indexical Component of Evidentiality. Paper presented at Meaning as Use: Indexicality, Expressives, and Self-reference, NASSLLI (2012). Ms, Cornell University. (email me for draft)


Reflexivity and Reciprocity: From English to Cheyenne. Second Qualifying Paper, Rutgers. (email me for draft)

This paper presents a crosslinguistic surface-compositional analysis of reflexivity and reciprocity in Dynamic Plural Logic (van den Berg 1996). This dynamic systems makes it possible to draw a semantic parallel between English reflexives and reciprocals. In addition, by appealing to underspecification, the semantic parallel can be extended to Cheyenne, a language which expresses both reflexivity and reciprocity with a single verbal suffix. English reflexive and reciprocal anaphors are both analyzed as presupposing global identity, which identifies two arguments (sets of entities) of the verb. Additionally, they each presuppose a further relation, distributive overlap or distributive non-overlap, which specifies a reflexive or reciprocal relation, respectively. Cheyenne -ahte presupposes just global identity and is thus underspecified for a reflexive or reciprocal construal. This accounts for otherwise puzzling facts about Cheyenne -ahte, as well as the semantic parallels and differences between English and Cheyenne. This was research for my second qualifying paper; my advisors were Maria Bittner, Roger Schwarzschild, and Matthew Stone.


Selectivity and Voicing Assimilation. First Qualifying Paper, Rutgers. (email me for draft)

This paper develops a novel account of voicing assimilation and neutralization which can account for both the patterns of heterosyllabic assimilation and tautosyllabic assimilation. Committee: Paul de Lacy, Alan Prince, and Bruce Tesar.


Remarks on Reportative Evidentials. Ms, Rutgers. (email me for draft)

This paper identifies five crosslinguistically attested patterns of use for reportative evidentials, as displayed in Quechua, Kalaallisut, and Cheyenne, and evaluates two current analyses of reportatives with respect to how they predict these data patterns.



Evidentiality and the Structure of Speech Acts. Ph.D. Thesis, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. [ pdf || abstract || bibtex ]

Committee: Maria Bittner (chair), Roger Schwarzschild, Matthew Stone, Jeroen Groenendijk (external member)


'Truckdriver’ and ‘Scarecrow’ Compounds: A Unified Approach. M.A. Thesis, Wayne State University. (email me for a copy)

Committee: Ljiljana Progovac (chair), Martha Ratliff, Margaret Winters