The dynamics of interpretation

Journal of Semantics 1 (1):3-20 (1982)
In current semantic theory compositional interpretations are assumed to go from linguistic items to their denotations in some model. This perspective still leaves room for a more dynamical account of how such interpretations are actually created. One natural idea is to assume that each sentence in a discourse is understood through some representation, ‘mediating’ between the language and its models. Thus, the old relation of interpretation splits up into two new ones, viz. that between linguistic items and their representations, and that between these representations and actual models. Now, at the Cleves conference it was clear that discourse representations are many things to many people. Some view them as syntactic constructs, some as psychological ones (yet others prefer to remain confused over this issue). Again, one popular metaphor is that of the partial picture of reality, another that of a procedural recipe for verification. Finally, these representations are supposed to explain such diverse phenomena as anaphora and progressive discourse information. It is not obvious that one coherent notion could do all these fobs. On the other hand, it is not obvious either that one need not try. The purpose of this paper is to clarify some logical issues concerning discourse representations, while trying to bring together two of the main themes at the Cleves conference, viz. representation proper and the topic of partial information. General considerations will be found in section 1; section 2 contains applications and illustrations drawn from the two best-developed formal paradigms of discourse semantics (cf. Hintikkn (1979), Hintikka & Carlson (1979). Kamp (1981)). It is our contention that more clarity as to the nature and the purpose of discourse representation will unite, rather than divide the various currents in this developing area
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DOI 10.1093/jos/1.1.3
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