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Summary The principle of semantic compositionality (PC) says, in a standard formulation: "The meaning of a complex expression is a function of the meanings of its parts and its mode of composition." It is a guiding principle in most of formal semantics. In the philosophy of language, as well as in linguistics more generally, it is controversial. Some think it is trivially true, or even empirically empty. Others think it is false (e.g. because of quotation, or belief sentences, or idioms). Yet others think it is true, or approximately true, and that it has explanatory value. Intuitions anticipating (PC) were expressed already in medieval times, but it was not stated in its modern form until the early 1980s.
Key works Carnap's Meaning and Necessity contains approximate statements of (PC), under the heading 'Frege's Principle'. Richard Montague (Montague 1974) pioneered formal semantics, and compositionality was central to Montague's approach. It was stated by him as a required property of formal semantics.  Several of the early papers in  Davidson 1984, such as 'Truth and meaning', give argument why natural language must have a property like compositionality (although Davidson does not use the term). In 'Compositionality', included in Partee 2004, Barbara Partee was the first to state (PC) as a principle in the modern format.   Hodges 2001 provides an algebraic framework for compositionality different from Montague's, defines important concepts and proves fundamental theorems.
Introductions Szabó 2008; Pagin 2010; Pagin 2010.
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  1. Barbara Abbott (2000). Fodor and Lepore on Meaning Similarity and Compositionality. Journal of Philosophy 97 (8):454-455.
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  2. José Tomás Alvarado (2006). Manifestation and Compositionality. Teorema: Revista Internacional de Filosofía 25 (3):5-36.
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  3. Scott AnderBois (2012). Focus and Uninformativity in Yucatec Maya Questions. Natural Language Semantics 20 (4):349-390.
    Crosslinguistically, questions frequently make crucial use of morphosyntactic elements which also occur outside of questions. Chief among these are focus, disjunctions, and wh-words with indefinite semantics. This paper provides a compositional account of the semantics of wh-, alternative, and polar questions in Yucatec Maya (YM), which are composed primarily of these elements. Key to the account is a theory of disjunctions and indefinites (extending work by others) which recognizes the inherently inquisitive nature of these elements. While disjunctions and indefinites are (...)
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  4. R. Bradshaw Angell (1960). Note on a Less Restricted Type of Rule of Inference. Mind 69 (274):253-255.
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  5. Víctor Martín Verdejo Aparicio (2009). Why Rationalist Compositionality Won't Go Away (Either). Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 24 (64):29-47.
    Vigorous Fodorian criticism may make it seem impossible for Inferential Role Semantics (IRS) to accommodate compositionality. In this paper, first, I introduce a neo-Fregean version of IRS that appeals centrally to the notion of rationality. Second, I show how such a theory can respect compositionality by means of semantic rules. Third, I argue that, even if we consider top-down compositional derivability: a) the Fodorian is not justified in claiming that it involves so-called reverse compositionality; and b) a defender of IRS (...)
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  6. Iep Author, Compositionality.
    Compositionality Compositionality is a concept in the philosophy of language. A symbolic system is compositional if the meaning of every complex expression E in that system depends on, and depends only on, E’s syntactic structure and the meanings of E’s simple parts. If a language is compositional, then the meaning of a sentence … Continue reading Compositionality →.
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  7. Emmon Bach, ACTL Semantics: Compositionality and Morphosemantics: II: Words, Morphemes, Constructions, Interpretations.
    A language is specified by a Lexicon and a Grammar. A constructive grammar goes like this: The Lexicon provides a set of items. The items are associated with Categories and Denotations. The Grammar gives a recursive specification of the language by defining sets of derived expressions starting with the Lexicon as the base and allowing the combination of lexical items into expressions with their Categories and Denotations, by a rule-to-rule procedure, and so on ad libitum.
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  8. Emmon Bach, ACTL Semantics: Compositionality and Morphosemantics: I: Syntactic and Semantic Assumptions: Compositionality.
    Theme of two lectures: how does meaning work in grammar and lexicon? General question: Are morphemes the minimal meaningful units of language? Are the meanings of the parts of words of the same kind as those of syntax? The answer to this question has an obvious bearing on the question of the derivation of complex words "in the syntax." Is the split between syntax and morphology the proper division for asking the previous question? Answer: No. The crucial distinction is that (...)
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  9. Kent Bach, Chris Barker, Kai von Fintel, Lyn Frazier, James Isaacs, Angelika Kratzer, Bill Ladusaw, Helen Majewski, Line Mikkelsen & Barbara Partee (2007). 12.1 Direct Compositionality Beyond the Sentence Level. In Chris Barker & Pauline I. Jacobson (eds.), Direct Compositionality. Oxford University Press. 405.
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  10. Giosue Baggio, Michiel van Lambalgen & Peter Hagoort (2012). The Processing Consequences of Compositionality. In Markus Werning, Wolfram Hinzen & Edouard Machery (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality. Oup Oxford.
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  11. Chris Barker & Pauline I. Jacobson (eds.) (2007). Direct Compositionality. Oxford University Press.
    This book examines the hypothesis of "direct compositionality", which requires that semantic interpretation proceed in tandem with syntactic combination. Although associated with the dominant view in formal semantics of the 1970s and 1980s, the feasibility of direct compositionality remained unsettled, and more recently the discussion as to whether or not this view can be maintained has receded. The syntax-semantics interaction is now often seen as a process in which the syntax builds representations which, at the abstract level of logical form, (...)
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  12. Arvid Båve (2013). Compositional Semantics for Expressivists. Philosophical Quarterly 63 (253):633-659.
    I here propose a hitherto unnoticed possibility of solving embedding problems for noncognitivist expressivists in metaethics by appeal to Conceptual Role Semantics. I show that claims from the latter as to what constitutes various concepts can be used to define functions from states expressed by atomic sentences to states expressed by complex sentences, thereby allowing an expressivist semantics that satisfies a rather strict compositionality constraint . The proposal can be coupled with several different types of concept individuation claim , and (...)
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  13. Jacob Beck (2012). The Generality Constraint and the Structure of Thought. Mind 121 (483):563-600.
    According to the Generality Constraint, mental states with conceptual content must be capable of recombining in certain systematic ways. Drawing on empirical evidence from cognitive science, I argue that so-called analogue magnitude states violate this recombinability condition and thus have nonconceptual content. I further argue that this result has two significant consequences: it demonstrates that nonconceptual content seeps beyond perception and infiltrates cognition; and it shows that whether mental states have nonconceptual content is largely an empirical matter determined by the (...)
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  14. Valentina Bianchi (2012). Semantica: Dalle Parole Alle Frasi. Carocci.
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  15. Maria Bittner, Scope in Kalaallisut: Analysis in CCG+UC2.
    Day 6 of advanced course on "Crosslinguistic compositional semantics" at 2009 LSA Summer Institute at UC Berkeley. Plan for today: (a) Review: scope prediction, Kalaallisut data, (b) Analysis of Kalaallisut data, (c) Questions & discussion.
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  16. Maria Bittner, Semantic Composition: Kalaallisut in CCG+UC1.
    Day 3 of advanced course on "Crosslinguistic compositional semantics" at 2009 LSA Summer Institute at UC Berkeley. Plan for the day: (a) Introduction: Toward sun-sem typology (b) CCG+UC1 fragment of Kalaallisut, (c) Kalaallisut BA.TO.L-traits explained.
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  17. Maria Bittner, Scope in English: Analysis in CCG+UC2.
    Day 5 of advanced course on "Crosslinguistic compositional semantics" at 2009 LSA Summer Institute at UC Berkeley. Plan for today: (a) Introduction: scope prediction (SA vs. BA), sample data (English vs. Kalaallisut), (b) Analysis of English data.
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  18. Maria Bittner, From Kalaallisut to English: Analysis in CCG+UC2.
    Day 4 of advanced course on "Crosslinguistic compositional semantics" at 2009 LSA Summer Institute at UC Berkeley. Plan to today: (a) Introduction (syn-sem traits of English vs. Kalaallisut, scope corollary), (b) UC1 + event (re)centering = UC2, (c) English and Kalaallisut in CCG+UC2, (d) Analysis of Kalaallisut BA.TO.L (review) vs. English SA.SU.S (new).
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  19. Maria Bittner (2003). Word Order and Incremental Update. In Proceedings from CLS 39-1. CLS.
    The central claim of this paper is that surface-faithful word-by-word update is feasible and desirable, even in languages where word order is supposedly free. As a first step, in sections 1 and 2, I review an argument from Bittner 2001a that semantic composition is not a static process, as in PTQ, but rather a species of anaphoric bridging. But in that case the context-setting role of word order should extend from cross-sentential discourse anaphora to sentence-internal anaphoric composition. This can be (...)
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  20. Maria Bittner (1995). Quantification in Eskimo: A Challenge for Compositional Semantics. In E. Bach, E. Jelinek, A. Kratzer & B. Partee (eds.), Quantification in Natural Languages. Kluwer. 59--80.
    This paper describes quantificational structures in Greenlandic Eskimo (Kalaallisut), a language where familiar quantificational meanings are expressed in ways that are quite different from English. Evidence from this language thus poses some formidable challenges for cross-linguistic theories of compositional semantics.
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  21. Ned Block (1993). Holism, Hyper-Analyticity and Hyper-Compositionality. Mind and Language 8 (1):1-26.
  22. Ben Blumson (2014). Interpreting Images. In Resemblance and Representation. Open Book Publishers. 118-138.
    Just as it’s possible to understand novel sentences without having heard them before, it’s possible to understand novel pictures without having seen them before. But these possibilities are often supposed to have totally different explanations: whereas the ability to understand novel sentences is supposed to be explained by tacit knowledge of a compositional theory of meaning for their language, the ability to understand novel pictures is supposed to be explained differently. In this paper I argue against this disanalogy: insofar as (...)
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  23. Ben Blumson (2014). Depiction and Composition. In Resemblance and Representation. Open Book Publishers. 99-116.
    Traditionally, the structure of a language is revealed by constructing an appropriate theory of meaning for that language, which exhibits how – and whether – the meaning of sentences in the language depends upon the meaning of their parts. In this paper, I argue that whether – and how – what pictures represent depends on what their parts represent should likewise by revealed by the construction of appropriate theories of representation for the symbol system of those pictures. This generalisation, I (...)
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  24. Reinhard Blutner, Petra Hendriks, Helen de Hoop & Oren Schwartz (2004). When Compositionality Fails to Predict Systematicity. In Simon D. Levy & Ross Gayler (eds.), Compositional Connectionism in Cognitive Science. AAAI Press.
    has to do with the acquisition of encyclopedic knowledge.
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  25. Denis Bonnay (2005). Compositionality and Molecularism. In Gerhard Schurz, Edouard Machery & Markus Werning (eds.), Applications to Linguistics, Psychology and Neuroscience. De Gruyter. 41-62.
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  26. Andrew Botterell & Robert J. Stainton (2005). Quotation: Compositionality and Innocence Without Demonstration. Critica 37 (110):3-33.
    We discuss two kinds of quotation, namely indirect quotation (e.g., 'Anita said that Mexico is beautiful') and pure quotation (e.g., 'Mexico' has six letters). With respect to each, we have both a negative and a positive plaint. The negative plaint is that the strict Davidsonian (1968, 1979a) treatment of indirect and pure quotation cannot be correct. The positive plaint is an alternative account of how quotation of these two sorts works.
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  27. Nick Braisby (2005). Perspectives, Compositionality and Complex Concepts. In Gerhard Schurz, Edouard Machery & Markus Werning (eds.), Applications to Linguistics, Psychology and Neuroscience. De Gruyter. 179-202.
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  28. Nick Braisby (1998). Compositionality and the Modelling of Complex Concepts. Minds and Machines 8 (4):479-508.
    The nature of complex concepts has important implications for the computational modelling of the mind, as well as for the cognitive science of concepts. This paper outlines the way in which RVC – a Relational View of Concepts – accommodates a range of complex concepts, cases which have been argued to be non-compositional. RVC attempts to integrate a number of psychological, linguistic and psycholinguistic considerations with the situation-theoretic view that information-carrying relations hold only relative to background situations. The central tenet (...)
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  29. Adrian Brasoveanu & Anna Szabolcsi, Presuppositional TOO, Postsuppositional TOO. The Dynamic, Inquisitive, and Visionary Life of Φ, ?Φ, and ◊Φ Subtitle: A Festschrift for Jeroen Groenendijk, Martin Stokhof, and Frank Veltman.
    One of the insights of dynamic semantics in its various guises (Kamp 1981, Heim 1982, Groenendijk & Stokhof 1991, Kamp & Reyle 1993 among many others) is that interpretation is sensitive to left-to-right order. Is order sensitivity, particularly the default left-to-right order of evaluation, a property of particular meanings of certain lexical items (e.g., dynamically interpreted conjunction) or is it a more general feature of meaning composition? If it is a more general feature of meaning composition, is it a processing (...)
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  30. Filip Buekens (2005). Compositionality, Aberrant Sentences and Unfamiliar Situations. In Gerhard Schurz, Edouard Machery & Markus Werning (eds.), Applications to Linguistics, Psychology and Neuroscience. De Gruyter. 63-82.
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  31. Keith Butler (1995). Content, Context, and Compositionality. Mind and Language 10 (1-2):3-24.
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  32. Keith Butler (1995). Compositionality in Cognitive Models: The Real Issue. [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 78 (2):153-62.
  33. Darragh Byrne (2005). Compositionality and the Manifestation Challenge. Synthese 144 (1):101--136.
    I address the question whether Dummetts manifestation challenge to semantic realism can be disarmed by reflection on the compositionality of meaning. Building on work of Dummett and Wright, I develop in §§12 what I argue to be the most formidable version of the manifestation challenge. Along the way I review attempts by previous authors to deploy considerations about compositionality in realisms favour, and argue that they are unsuccessful. The formulation of the challenge I develop renders explicit something which I argue (...)
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  34. H. G. Callaway (2008). Meaning Without Analyticity: Essays on Logic, Language and Meaning. Cambridge Scholars.
    Meaning without Analyticity draws upon the author’s essays and articles, over a period of 20 years, focused on language, logic and meaning. The book explores the prospect of a non-behavioristic theory of cognitive meaning which rejects the analytic-synthetic distinction, Quinean behaviorism, and the logical and social-intellectual excesses of extreme holism. Cast in clear, perspicuous language and oriented to scientific discussions, this book takes up the challenges of philosophical communication and evaluation implicit in the recent revival of the pragmatist tradition—especially those (...)
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  35. David J. Chalmers (1993). Connectionism and Compositionality: Why Fodor and Pylyshyn Were Wrong. Philosophical Psychology 6 (3):305-319.
    This paper offers both a theoretical and an experimental perspective on the relationship between connectionist and Classical (symbol-processing) models. Firstly, a serious flaw in Fodor and Pylyshyn’s argument against connectionism is pointed out: if, in fact, a part of their argument is valid, then it establishes a conclusion quite different from that which they intend, a conclusion which is demonstrably false. The source of this flaw is traced to an underestimation of the differences between localist and distributed representation. It has (...)
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  36. Jon Cogburn & Roy Cook (2005). Inverted Space: Minimal Verificationism, Propositional Attitudes, and Compositionality. Philosophia 32 (1-4):73-92.
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  37. Daniel Cohnitz (2005). Is Compositionality an a Priori Principle? In M. Wening, E. Machery & G. Schurz (eds.), The Compositionality of Concepts and Meanings: Foundational Issues. Ontos.
    When reasons are given for compositionality, the arguments usually purport to establish compositionality in an almost a priori manner. I will rehearse these arguments why one could think that compositionality is a priori true, or almost a priori true, and will find all of them inconclusive. This, in itself, is no reason against compositionality, but a reason to try to establish or defend the principle on other than quasi-a priori grounds.
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  38. John Collins (2003). Horwich's Schemata Meet Syntactic Structures. Mind 112 (447):399-432.
    Paul Horwich (1998), following a number of others, proposes a schematic compositional format for the specification of the meanings of complex expressions. The format is schematic in the sense that it identifies grammatical schemata that do not presuppose any particular account of primitive word meanings: whatever the nature of meanings, the application of the schemata to them will serve to explain compositionality. This signals, for Horwich, that compositionality is a non-substantive constraint on theories of meaning. Drawing on a range of (...)
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  39. Adrian Constantinescu (2009). On the Compositionality of Meaning. Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 8:182-187.
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  40. M. Arbib D. Bickerton (ed.) (2010). The Emergence of Protolanguage: Holophrasis Vs Compositionality. John Benjamins.
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  41. Nic Damnjanovic (2004). The Compositionality Papers. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 82 (2):366 – 367.
    Book Information The Compositionality Papers. The Compositionality Papers Jerry A. Fodor and Ernest Lepore , Oxford: Clarendon Press , 2002 , viii + 212 , US$65.00 ( cloth ), US$19.95 ( paper ) By Jerry A. Fodor. and Ernest Lepore. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Pp. viii + 212. US$65.00 (cloth:), US$19.95 (paper:).
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  42. J. Dever (2003). Problems of Compositionality. Philosophical Review 112 (2):254-258.
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  43. Josh Dever, Review of Problems of Compositionality. [REVIEW]
    Problems of Compositionality is a revised version of Zolt´an Szab´o’s 1995 doctoral dissertation. Of its five chapters, three have appeared (in heavily modified form) in print independently1, so I will concentrate most of my remarks on the second and third chapters, which remain unpublished outside the book. As it happens, I find these two chapters to be the most philosophically rewarding of the book. The principle of compositionality is a general constraint on the shape of a theory of meaning. Szab´o (...)
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  44. Josh Dever (2006). Compositionality. In Ernest Lepore & Barry Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. Oxford University Press. 633--666.
    Nevertheless, any competent speaker will know what it means. What explains our ability to understand sentences we have never before encountered? One natural hypothesis is that those novel sentences are built up out of familiar parts, put together in familiar ways. This hypothesis requires the backing hypothesis that English has a compositional semantic theory.
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  45. Josh Dever (2003). Modal Fictionalism and Compositionality. Philosophical Studies 114 (3):223 - 251.
    Modal fictionalists propose to defuse the unwanted ontological commitments of modal realism by treating modal realism as a fictional story, and modal assertions as assertions, prefixed by a fictionalist operator, that something is true in that story. However, consideration of conditionals with modal antecedents raises the problem ofembedding, which shows that the simple prefixing strategy cannotsucceed. A compositional version of the fictionalist strategy isdeveloped and critiqued, and some general semantic morals aredrawn from the failures of both strategies.
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  46. Josh Dever (1999). Compositionality as Methodology. Linguistics and Philosophy 22 (3):311-326.
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  47. José A. Díez (2000). Melons, Watermelons and Red Watermelons: A Case Against Compositionality? Comments on Siebel: Philosophy of Language. Theoria 15 (38):281-285.
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  48. David Dowty (2007). 2.1 Why Be Interested in Compositionality? In Chris Barker & Pauline I. Jacobson (eds.), Direct Compositionality. Oxford University Press. 14--23.
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  49. David Dowty (2007). Compositionality as an Empirical Problem. In Chris Barker & Pauline I. Jacobson (eds.), Direct Compositionality. Oxford University Press. 14--23.
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  50. Tim Fernando, Ambiguous Discourse in a Compositional Context.
    The processing of sequences of (English) sentences is analyzed compositionally through transitions that merge sentences, rather than decomposing them. Transitions that are in a precise sense inertial are related to disjunctive and non-deterministic approaches to ambiguity. Modal interpretations are investigated, inducing various equivalences on sequences.
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