Chris Kennedy

Faculty Photo
William H. Colvin Professor, Department of Linguistics
Rosenwald 205E
Office Hours: By Appointment
Ph.D. University of California at Santa Cruz, 1997
Teaching at UChicago since 2005
Research Interests: Semantics, Pragmatics, Syntax, Philosophy of Language

Dr. Chris Kennedy's work is geared towards discovering and describing the principles that are involved in relating linguistic forms to meanings; determining how this mapping is achieved through the interaction of properties of the linguistic system, properties of cognition more generally, and broader features of communicative contexts; and understanding the extent to which structural and typological features of language can be explained in terms of meaning. Over the past two decades, he has explored these issues primarily through an exploration of the language of comparison, amount and degree, though his research has also touched on core issues in the syntax-semantics interface such as ellipsis, anaphora, and quantification. Kennedy's work engages methodologically and theoretically with work in other areas of cognitive science.



  • McNally, L. and C. Kennedy (eds). 2008. Adjectives and Adverbs: Syntax, Semantics and Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Kennedy, C. 1999. Projecting the Adjective: The Syntax and Semantics of Gradability and Comparison. Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics Series. New York: Garland Press.

Selected Articles/Chapters:

  • Kennedy, C. In press. The Sorites Paradox in Linguistics. In Oms, S. and E. Zardini (eds.), The Sorites Paradox. Cambridge University Press.
  • Kennedy, C. and M. Willer. 2016. “Subjective Attitudes and Counterstance Contingency.” Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory 26.
  • Kennedy, C. 2015. “A ‘De-Fregean’ Semantics (and Neo-Gricean Pragmatics) for Modified and Unmodified Numerals.” Semantics and Pragmatics 8.10:1-44.
  • Kennedy, C. 2014. “Predicates and Formulas: Evidence from Ellipsis.” In Crnic, L. and U. Sauerland (eds) The Art and Craft of Semantics: A Festschrift for Irene Heim, Volume 1. MIT Working Papers in Linguistics, Cambridge, MA.
  • Alrenga, P. and C. Kennedy. 2013. “No More Shall We Part: Quantifiers in English Comparatives.” Natural Language Semantics 22.1:1-53.
  • Kennedy, C. 2013. “Two Sources of Subjectivity: Qualitative Assessment and Dimensional Uncertainty.” Inquiry 56.2-3:258-277.

2019-2020 Course Offerings

Code Making/Code Breaking (LING 26040, SIGN 26002) - Autumn 2019

This course investigates the nature and use of codes and ciphers throughout the ages: what they are, how they have been used, and ways that they have affected (and maybe even determined) the course of history and human development. We will start out by looking at writing, the most basic tool for encoding human thought. We will then turn to an exploration of ways that information is concealed and revealed in areas ranging from literature and religious texts to wartime communications and the human genome, with particular focus on questions arising from computer science on the nature of consciousness and the limits of privacy. We will conclude by returning to questions about the linguistic code: where it comes from, whether it can be perfected, and how we would recognize messages from outer space.

Semantics and Pragmatics I (LING 30301) - Autumn 2019

This is the first in a two-course sequence designed to provide a foundation in the scientific study of all aspects of linguistic meaning. The first quarter focuses primarily on pragmatics: those aspects of meaning that arise from the way that speakers put language to use, rather than through the formal properties of the linguistic system itself, which is the domain of semantics. However, a central goal of the course will be to begin to develop an understanding of the relation between pragmatics and semantics, by exploring empirical phenomena in which contextual and conventional aspects of meaning interact in complex but regular and well-defined ways, and by learning analytical techniques that allow us to tease these two aspects of linguistics meaning apart.

2020-2021 Course Offerings

Semantics and Pragmatics II (LING 30302) - Winter 2021

This is the second course in the first-year graduate sequence in semantics and pragmatics, designed to introduce students to the core principles and empirical issues addressed by formal semantics and to familiarize them with the analytical tools involved in the investigation of this domain. The focus of this class is truth-conditional aspects of meaning and the compositional interpretation of phrases and sentences. Students will develop skills in semantic analysis and argumentation by focusing on semantic questions that arise in the analysis of a range of different phenomena, including argument structure, coordination, quantification, comparison, binding and anaphora.

Truth (LING 26020) - Spring 2021

"Alternative facts'' and "fake news'' have fueled growing concerns that we are entering a "post-truth'' society. But what exactly is truth, and why should we care about it? We will address this question over the course of this quarter by examining contemporary views on the role of truth in meaning and communication; challenges to these views from uncertainty and subjectivity; arguments for and against different conceptions of truth; expressions of skepticism about the value of truth; different categories of non-truth (lies vs.\ bullshit); and how all of these issues bear on the relation between truth, belief and decision making. Along the way, we will consider whether our claims to know certain things are always limited because they come from a particular perspective, and what value (if any) truth contributes to the well-lived life.