This paper is about a topic in the semantics of interrogatives.1 In what follows a number of assumptions ﬁgure at the background which, though intuitively appealing, have not gone unchallenged, and it seems therefore only fair to draw the reader’s attention to them at the outset. The ﬁrst assumption concerns a very global intuition about the kind of semantic objects that we associate with interrogatives. The intuition is that there is an intimate relationship between interrogatives and their answers: an interrogative (...) determines what counts as an answer.2 Given a certain, independently motivated, view on what constitutes the meaning of an answer, this intuition, in return, determines what constitutes the meaning of an interrogative. For example, starting from the observation that answers are true or false in situations, we may be led to the view that answers express propositions, i.e., objects which determine a truth value in a situation. Given that much, our basic intuition says that interrogatives are to be associated with objects which determine propositions. Such objects will be referred to as ‘questions’ in what follows. Notice that all this is largely framework independent: we have made no assumptions yet about what situations, propositions, and questions are, we have only related them in a certain systematic way. In fact we will use a more or less standard, but certainly not uncontroversial, speciﬁcation in what follows: situations are identiﬁed with (total) possible worlds; propositions with sets of worlds; and questions with equivalence relations on the set of worlds. The second assumption that plays a role in what follows is of a more linguistic nature. Interrogatives typically occur in two ways: as independent expressions, and as complements of certain verbs. The assumption is that these two ways of occurring are systematically related, not just syntactically but also semantically.3 Notice that the exact nature of this relationship is underdeter.. (shrink)
In the present version of these lecture notes only a number of typos and a few glaring mistakes have been corrected. Thanks to Paul Dekker for his help in this respect. No attempt has been been made to update the original text or to incorporate new insights and approaches. For a more recent overview, see our ‘Questions’ in the Handbook of Logic and Language (edited by Johan van Benthem and Alice ter Meulen, Elsevier, 1997).
This paper1 explores, quite tentatively, possible consequences for the concept of semantics of two phenomena concerning meaning and interpretation, viz., radical interpretation and normativity of meaning. Both, it will be argued, challenge the way in which meaning is conceived of in semantics and thereby the status of the discipline itself. For several reasons it seems opportune to explore these issues. If one reviews the developments in semantics over the past two decades, one observes that quite a bit has changed, and (...) one may well wonder how to assess these changes. This relates directly to the status of semantics. If semantics is an empirical discipline, one might expect that most changes are informed by empirical considerations. However, one may also note that the core notion of semantics, meaning, today is conceived of quite diﬀerently than in, say, the seventies. How can that be? How can that what semantics is about, be diﬀerent now from what is was back then? Or is this perhaps an indication that semantics is not as empirical as it is often thought to be? Moreover, it seems that in some deep sense meaning as explicated in semantics and interpretation as studied in various philosophical approaches are strangely at odds. Meaning is what interpretation is concerned with: meaning is, at least so it seems, what in the process of interpretation language users try to recover (or analogously, what they try to convey in production). Yet, the way meaning is conceived of in semantics seems not to square all that neatly with how the process of interpretation is supposed to proceed. In particular it seems to lack some of the intrinsic features that various approaches to interpretation assume it to have. Given these discrepancies, one wonders how the two can be incorporated within a single theory. And that such a theory is desirable goes, it may be presumed, without saying These are the reasons that ﬁgure in this paper. At the background there are some others.. (shrink)
When one looks into the role of artificial languages in philosophy of language it seems appropriate to start with making a distinction between philosophy of language proper and formal semantics of natural language. Although the distinction between the two disciplines may not always be easy to make since there arguably exist substantial historical and systematic relationships between the two, it nevertheless pays to keep the two apart, at least initially, since the motivation commonly given for the use of artificial languages (...) in philosophy of language is often rather different from the one that drives the use of such languages in semantics. Of course, this difference in motivation should not blind us for the commonalities that exists between the two disciplines. Philosophy of language and formal semantics have a common history, and arguably also share some of their substance. Philosophy of language is by and large an outgrowth of work in the analytical tradition in philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century. Both ordinary language philosophy, with its emphasis on the description of actual language use, as well as the more logic-oriented and formally inclined school of logical positivism contributed to the definition of philosophy of language as a separate philosophical discipline, with its own set of problems and methods to solve them. Another major contributor to the establishment of philosophy of language as a distinct discipline has been modern linguistics, in particular generative grammar in the tradition of Chomsky that became the dominant paradigm in linguisticsin the fifties and sixties of the previous century. And as it happens, both the generative tradition of Chomsky and analytic philosophy in its formal and less formal guises have been important factors in the development of formal semantics as well. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the two have something in common. That the communalities go beyond a common ancestry, but are reflected in substance and methods as well, will be argued later on. However, be that as it may, it is still a good idea to keep philosophy of language and formal semantics separate, at least initially, since the role that is assigned to artificial languages and the ways in which these languages are employed in both does differ in a number of respects that are worth keeping in mind.. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to argue that update semantics is a natural framework for contextually restricted quantification, and to illustrate its use in the analysis of anaphoric definite descriptions and certain other anaphoric terms.
Update semantics1 embodies a radical view on the relation between context and interpretation. The meaning of a sentence is identified with its context change potential, where contexts are identified with information states. The recursive definition of semantic interpretation is stated in terms of a process of updating an information state with a sentence. Meanings of sentences, then, are update functions. In general, these are partial functions, since the possibility to update with a sentence may depend on the fulfillment of certain (...) constraints (presuppositions, the presence of antecedents for anaphora, etc.). It is important to note that context and interpretation are interdependent: the interpretation process depends on the context, `. (shrink)
Of course, although this view on meaning was the prevailing one for almost a century, many of the people who initiated the enterprise of logical semantics, including people like Frege and Wittgenstein, had an open eye for all that it did not catch. However, the logical means which Frege, Wittgenstein, Russell, and the generation that succeeded them, had at their disposal were those of classical mathematical logic and set-theory, and these indeed are not very suited for an analysis of other (...) aspects of meaning than those which the slogan covers. A real change in view then had to await the emergence of other concepts, which in due course became available mainly under the influence of developments in computer science and cognate disciplines such as artificial intelligence. And this is one of the reasons why it took almost a century before any serious and successful challenge of the view that meaning equals truthconditions from within logical semantics could emerge. (shrink)
When in 1980, on the Third Amsterdam Colloquium, Johan van Benthem read a paper with the title ‘Why is Semantics What?’ (cf. ), I was puzzled: Wasn’t it obvious what semantics is? Why did our concept of it stand in need of justification? Later, much later, I came to appreciate what Van Benthem was doing in this paper (and in some others). Questioning the ‘standard model’, the assumptions on which the working semanticists silently agree, Van Benthem opened up a space (...) of issues to be discussed, questions to be asked, routes to be explored, that had been hidden from view by the unreflective endorsement of just one possible, albeit fruitful way of doing semantics. History, by the way, has proven him right on many points: the monolithic approach that dominated formal semantics of natural language in the seventies, and which relied heavily on Montague’s seminal papers, has given way to a multitude of different ways of tackling semantic issues, using different formal techniques. Some limitations, in particular the almost exclusive focus on sentences as the primary units of analysis, have been overcome. In another respect, however, I feel that the message of Van Benthem’s paper has not caught on sufficiently. He urges semanticists to take more interest in the properties of their tools, arguing that such questions are important if we are to come to a real, deep understanding of what semantics is. Such ‘meta-level’ considerations, although certainly less scarce than they used to be, are still not an everyday concern of the working semanticist. (shrink)
This paper is an informal introduction to some aspects of dynamic semantics. It is a compilation of earlier reports on joint work with Frank Veltman. The opening section can also be found in Groenendijk et al. 1996a. Section 3 is drawn from Groenendijk et al. 1995a. Some of the discussion in section 4 derives from Groenendijk et al. 1996c.
In Groenendijk & Stokhof  a system of dynamic predicate logic (DPL) was developed, as a compositional alternative for classical discourse representation theory (DRT ). DPL shares with DRT the restriction of being a first-order system. In the present paper, we are mainly concerned with overcoming this limitation. We shall define a dynamic semantics for a typed language with λ-abstraction which is compatible with the semantics DPL specifies for the language of first-order predicate logic. We shall propose to use this (...) new logical system as the semantic component of a Montague-style grammar (referred to as dynamic Montague grammar, DMG), which will enable us to extend the compositionality of DPL to the subsentential level. Furthermore, we shall extend this analysis also in this sense that we shall add new, dynamic interpretations for logical constants which in DPL were treated in a static fashion. This will substantially increase the descriptive coverage of DMG. (shrink)
This paper is about a topic in the semantics of interrogatives.1 In what follows a number of assumptions figure at the background which, though intuitively appealing, have not gone unchallenged, and it seems therefore only fair to draw the reader’s attention to them at the outset.
The paper sketches the place of dynamic semantics within a broader picture of developments in philosophical and linguistic theories of meaning. Some basic concepts of dynamic semantics are illustrated by means of a detailed analysis of anaphoric definite and indefinite descriptions, which are treated as contextually dependent quantificational expressions. It is shown how a dynamic view sheds new light on the contextual nature of interpretation, on the difference between monologue and dialogue, and on the interplay between direct and indirect information.
No attempt has been been made to update the original text or to incorporate new insights and approaches. For a more recent overview, see our ‘Questions’ in the Handbook of Logic and Language (edited by Johan van Benthem and Alice ter Meulen, Elsevier, 1997).
Objects come to us, and we to them, in many diﬀerent ways: by touch, vision, smell; in thought, language, imagination. We access them directly and manipulate them; or we approach them indirectly and keep our distance. Sometimes we do so at the same time: we pick up an object and ask ourselves where we bought it, or what it is for; we look at an object and admire its shape or colour. But often we simply take the object and use (...) it, and neither its material properties, nor its history need concern us: we take it for granted. (shrink)
The paper by Fritz Hamm, Hans Kamp and Michiel van Lambalgen (in what follows abbreviated as ‘HKL’) is a very rich one. Not only does it contain a wealth of empirical and formal insights concerning the analysis of tense and aspect, planning and causality, and other phenomena, it also contains some penetrating remarks concerning the scope and method of semantic theory. It is the latter aspect of the paper that I want to make a few comments on in what follows.
Dynamic logic, broadly conceived, is the logic that analyses change by decomposing actions into their basic building blocks and by describing the results of performing actions in given states of the world. The actions studied by dynamic logic can be of various kinds: actions on the memory state of a computer, actions of a moving robot in a closed world, interactions between cognitive agents performing given communication protocols, actions that change the common ground between speaker and hearer in a conversation, (...) actions that change the contextually available referents in a conversation, and so on. (shrink)
Discussions often end before the issues that started them have been resolved. For example, in the late sixties and early seventies, a hot topic in philosophical logic was the development of an adequate semantics for the language of modal predicate logic. However, the result of this discussion was not one single system that met with general agreement, but a collection of alternative systems, each defended most ably by its proponents.
Natural languages are vehicles of information, arguably the most important, certainly the most ubiquitous that humans possess. Our everyday interactions with the world, with each other and with ourselves depend on them. And even where in the specialised contexts of science we use dedicated formalisms to convey information, their use is embedded in natural language.1..
This paper discusses a number of methodological issues with mainstream formal semantics and then investigates whetherWittgenstein’s later work provides an alternative approach that is able to avoid these issues.
This short note takes another look at the ideas proposed by the ‘New Wittgen steinians’, focusing on a feature of the discussion these ideas have generated that hitherto seems to have received comparatively little attention, viz., certain assumptions about the conception of philosophy as an intellectual enterprise, including its relation to the sciences, that seem to be adopted by both the New Wittgensteinians and (many of) their critics.
With a few notable exceptions formal semantics, as it originated from the seminal work of Richard Montague, Donald Davidson, Max Cresswell, David Lewis and others, in the late sixties and early seventies of the previous century, does not consider Wittgenstein as one of its ancestors. That honour is bestowed on Frege, Tarski, Carnap. And so it has been in later developments. Most introductions to the subject will refer to Frege and Tarski (Carnap less frequently) —in addition to the pioneers just (...) mentioned, of course— , and discuss the main elements of their work that helped shape formal semantics in some detail. But Wittgenstein is conspicuously absent whenever the history of the subject is mentioned (usually brieﬂy, if at all). (shrink)
This paper does not deal with the topic of ‘the generosity of artiﬁcial languages from an Asian or a comparative perspective’. Rather, it is concerned with a particular case taken from a development in the Western tradition, when in the wake of the rise of formal logic at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century people in philosophy and later in linguistics started to use formal languages in the study of the semantics of natural languages. (...) This undertaking rests on certain philosophical assumptions and instantiates a particular methodology, that we want to examine critically. However, that in itself is still too broad a topic for a single paper, so we will focus on a particular aspect, viz., the distinction between grammatical form and logical form and the crucial role it plays in how the relationship between natural languages and formal languages is understood in this tradition. We will uncover two basic assumptions that underlie the standard view on the distinction between grammatical form and logical form, and discuss how they have contributed to the shaping of a particular methodology and a particular view on the status of semantics as a discipline. (shrink)
The paper sketches the place of dynamic semantics within a broader picture of developments in philosophical and linguistic theories of meaning. Some basic concepts of dynamic semantics are illustrated by means of a detailed analysis of anaphoric deﬁnite and indeﬁnite descriptions, which are treated as contextually dependent quantiﬁcational expressions. It is shown how a dynamic view sheds new light on the contextual nature of interpretation, on the diﬀerence between monologue and dialogue, and on the interplay between direct and indirect information.
This paper is devoted to the formulation and investigation of a dynamic semantic interpretation of the language of ﬁrst-order predicate logic. The resulting system, which will be referred to as ‘dynamic predicate logic’, is intended as a ﬁrst step towards a compositional, non-representational theory of discourse semantics. In the last decade, various theories of discourse semantics have emerged within the paradigm of model-theoretic semantics. A common feature of these theories is a tendency to do away with the principle of compositionality, (...) a principle which, implicitly or explicitly, has dominated semantics since the days of Frege. Therefore the question naturally arises whether non-compositionality is in any way a necessary feature of discourse semantics. Since we subscribe to the interpretation of compositionality as constituting primarily a methodological principle, we consider this to be a methodological rather than an empirical question. As a consequence, the emphasis in the present paper lies on developing an alternative compositional semantics of discourse, which is empirically equivalent to its non-compositional brethren, but which diﬀers from them in a principled methodological way. Hence, no attempts are made to improve on existing theories empirically. Nevertheless, as we indicate in section 5, the development of a compositional alternative may in the end have empirical consequences, too. First of all, it can be argued that the dynamic view on interpretation developed in this paper suggests natural and relatively easy to formulate extensions which enable one to deal with a wider range of phenomena than can be dealt with in existing theories. Moreover, the various approaches to the model-theoretic semantics of discourse that have been developed during the last decade, have constituted a ‘fresh start’ in the sense that much of what had been accomplished before was ignored, at least for a start. Of course, this is a justiﬁed strategy if one feels one is trying to develop a radically diﬀerent approach to recalcitrant problems. However, there comes a time when such new approaches have to be compared with the older one, and when an assessment of the pros and cons of each has to be made. One of the main problems in semantics today, we feel, is that a semantic theory such as Montague grammar, and an approach like Kamp’s discourse representation theory, are hard to compare, let alone that it is possible to unify their insights and results.. (shrink)
This paper is devoted to the formulation and investigation of a dynamic semantic interpretation of the language of first-order predicate logic. The resulting system, which will be referred to as ‘dynamic predicate logic’, is intended as a first step towards a compositional, non-representational theory of discourse semantics.