Formal semantics in the age of pragmatics

Linguistics and Philosophy 30 (6):637-668 (2007)
Abstract
This paper aims to argue for two related statements: first, that formal semantics should not be conceived of as interpreting natural language expressions in a single model (a very large one representing the world as a whole, or something like that) but as interpreting them in many different models (formal counterparts, say, of little fragments of reality); second, that accepting such a conception of formal semantics yields a better comprehension of the relation between semantics and pragmatics and of the role to be played by formal semantics in the general enterprise of understanding meaning. For this purpose, three kinds of arguments are given: firstly, empirical arguments showing that the many models approach is the most straightforward and natural way of giving a formal counterpart to natural language sentences. Secondly, logical arguments proving the logical impossibility of a single universal model. And thirdly, theoretical arguments to the effect that such a conception of formal semantics fits in a natural and fruitful way with pragmatic theories and facts. In passing, this conception will be shown to cast some new light on the old problems raised by liar and sorites paradoxes.
Keywords Formal semantics  Semantics versus pragmatics  Minimal semantics  Compositionality  Truth predicate  Vagueness  Liar paradox
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