Formal semantics is an approach to SEMANTICS1, the study of meaning, with roots in logic, the philosophy of language, and linguistics, and since the 1980’s a core area of linguistic theory. Characteristics of formal semantics to be treated in this article include the following: Formal semanticists treat meaning as mind-independent (though abstract), contrasting with the view of meanings as concepts “in the head” (see I-LANGUAGE AND E-LANGUAGE and MEANING EXTERNALISM AND INTERNALISM); formal semanticists distinguish semantics from knowledge of semantics (Lewis (...) 1975, Cresswell 1978), which has consequences for the notion of semantic COMPETENCE. A central part of the meaning of a sentence on this approach is its TRUTH CONDITIONS, and most although not all formal semantics is model-theoretic, relating linguistic expressions to model-theoretically constructed semantic values cast in terms of truth, REFERENCE, and possible worlds. This sets formal semantics apart from approaches which view semantics as relating a sentence just to a representation on another linguistic “level” (LOGICAL FORM) or a representation in an innate LANGUAGE OF THOUGHT. The formal semanticist could accept such representations as an aspect of semantics but would insist on asking what the model-theoretic semantic interpretation of the given representationlanguage is (Lewis 1970). Formal semantics is centrally concerned with COMPOSITIONALITY at the SYNTAX-SEMANTICS INTERFACE, how the meanings of larger constituents are built up from the meanings of their parts on the basis of their syntactic structure, and with the relation between compositional SENTENCE MEANING and meaning in discourse. (shrink)
The Russian Genitive of Negation construction (Gen Neg) involves case alternation between Genitive and the two structural cases, Nominative and Accusative.1 The factors governing the alternation have been a matter of debate for many decades, and there is a huge literature. Here we focus on one central issue and its theoretical ramiﬁcations. The theoretical issue is the following. The same truth-conditional content can often be structured in more than one way; we believe that there is a distinction between choices in (...) how to structure a situation to be described, and choices in how to structure a sentence describing the (already structured) situation. The distinction may not always be sharp, and the term Information Structure may perhaps cover both, but we believe that the distinction is important and needs closer attention. Babby (1980), in a masterful work on the Russian Genitive of Negation, argued that the choice depended principally on Theme-Rheme structure; after initially following Babby (Borschev & Partee 1998), we later argued (Borschev & Partee 2002a,b) that the choice reﬂects not Theme-Rheme structure but a structuring of the described situation which we call Perspectival Structure. Here we brieﬂy review the phenomenon, Babby’s Theme-Rheme-based analysis, and our arguments for a diﬀerent analysis. We then consider Hanging Topics, partitive Genitives, and broader licensing conditions of Genitive case, raising the possibility that our counterexamples to Babby’s use of Theme-Rheme structure might be explained away as examples involving Hanging Topics rather than (Praguian) Themes. We argue against that idea as well, but leave open the possibility that our Perspectival Structure may eventually be construable as a kind of information structure itself, if that notion can include some kinds of structuring of the situation as well as of the discourse. (shrink)
Montague (1970a) presented a semantic treatment of adjectives which he credited to unpublished work done independently by Hans Kamp and Terence Parsons; that work, and similar independent work of Romane Clark, was subsequently published (Clark 1970, Kamp 1975, Parsons 1970). The central claim in that work was that adjective meanings should be analyzed as functions from properties to properties. Among adjective meanings, some might satisfy further constraints such as intersectivity or subsectivity, but no such constraint can be imposed on the (...) class as a whole, the argument goes, because of the existence of adjectives like false, ostensible, alleged. (shrink)
For me the adventure began just 50 years ago, here at MIT in 1961. The Chomskian revolution had just begun, and Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle had just opened up a PhD program in Linguistics, and I came in the first class. I want to start by thanking Chomsky and Halle for building that program, and I thank MIT and the Research Laboratory of Electronics for supporting it. I’m indebted to Chomsky for revolutionizing the field of linguistics and making it (...) into a field whose excitement has never waned. Chomsky redefined linguistics as the study of human linguistic competence, making linguistics one of the early pillars of cognitive science. (shrink)
“Symmetrical predicates” have distinctive linguistic properties in many languages. But the concept of “symmetry” merits closer examination. Consider the surprising claim by the psychologist Amos Tversky (1977) that the concept ‘similar’, a standard example of a symmetrical predicate, is in fact not symmetrical. Tversky’s evidence includes the fact that experimental subjects generally rate (1a) as holding to a higher degree than (1b). (1) a. North Korea is similar to Red China. b. Red China is similar to North Korea.
Does context and context-dependence belong to the research agenda of semantics - and, specifically, of formal semantics? Not so long ago many linguists and philosophers would probably have given a negative answer to the question. However, recent developments in formal semantics have indicated that analyzing natural language semantics without a thorough accommodation of context-dependence is next to impossible. The classification of the ways in which context and context-dependence enter semantic analysis, though, is still a matter of much controversy and some (...) of these disputes are ventilated in the present collection. This book is not only a collection of papers addressing context-dependence and methods for dealing with it: it also records comments to the papers and the authors' replies to the comments. In this way, the contributions themselves are contextually dependent. In view of the fact that the contributors to the volume are such key figures in contemporary formal semantics as Hans Kamp, Barbara Partee, Reinhard Muskens, Nicholas Asher, Manfred Krifka, Jaroslav Peregrin and many others, the book represents a quite unique inquiry into the current activities on the semantics side of the semantics/pragmatics boundary. (shrink)
The problem discussed here is to find a basis for a uniform treatment of the relation between pronouns and their antecedents, taking into account both linguists' and philosophers' approaches. The two main candidates would appear to be the linguists' notion of coreference and the philosophers' notion of pronouns as variables. The notion of coreference can be extended to many but not all cases where the antecedent is non-referential. The pronouns-as-variables approach appears to come closer to full generality, but there are (...) some examples of pronouns of laziness which appear to resist either of the two approaches. (shrink)