About this topic
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.
Related categories

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  1. Compositionality Papers.Jerry A. Fodor & Ernest Lepore (eds.) - 2002 - Oxford University Press UK.
    Jerry Fodor and Ernie Lepore have produced a series of original and controversial essays on issues relating to compositionality in language and mind; they have now revised them all for publication together in this volume. Compositionality is the following aspect of a system of representation: the complex symbols in the system inherit their syntactic and semantic properties from the primitive symbols of the system. Fodor and Lepore argue that compositionality determines what view we must take of the nature of concepts. (...)
  2. Fodor and Lepore on Meaning Similarity and Compositionality.Barbara Abbott - 2000 - Journal of Philosophy 97 (8):454-455.
  3. Fodor and Lepore on Meaning Similarity and Compositionality.Barbara Abbott - 2000 - Journal of Philosophy 97 (8):454.
  4. The Etymology of Proper Names as an Exegetical Device in Rabbinic Literature.Philip Alexander - 2004 - The Studia Philonica Annual 16:169-187.
  5. Manifestation and Compositionality.José Tomás Alvarado - 2006 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 25 (3):5-36.
  6. Focus and Uninformativity in Yucatec Maya Questions.Scott AnderBois - 2012 - 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 (...)
  7. Note on a Less Restricted Type of Rule of Inference.R. Bradshaw Angell - 1960 - Mind 69 (274):253-255.
  8. Why Rationalist Compositionality Won't Go Away (Either).Víctor Martín Verdejo Aparicio - 2009 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 24 (1):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 (...)
  9. ACTL Semantics: Compositionality and Morphosemantics: II: Words, Morphemes, Constructions, Interpretations.Emmon Bach - unknown
    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.
  10. ACTL Semantics: Compositionality and Morphosemantics: I: Syntactic and Semantic Assumptions: Compositionality.Emmon Bach - unknown
    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 (...)
  11. 12.1 Direct Compositionality Beyond the Sentence Level.Kent Bach, Chris Barker, Kai von Fintel, Lyn Frazier, James Isaacs, Angelika Kratzer, Bill Ladusaw, Helen Majewski, Line Mikkelsen & Barbara Partee - 2007 - In Chris Barker & Pauline I. Jacobson (eds.), Direct Compositionality. Oxford University Press. pp. 405.
  12. The Processing Consequences of Compositionality.Giosue Baggio, Michiel van Lambalgen & Peter Hagoort - 2012 - In Markus Werning, Wolfram Hinzen & Edouard Machery (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality. Oxford University Press.
    Compositionality remains effective as an explanation of cases in which processing complexity increases due to syntactic factors only. It falls short of accounting for situations in which complexity arises from interactions with the sentence or discourse context, perceptual cues, and stored knowledge. The idea of compositionality as a methodological principle is appealing, but imputing the complexity to one component of the grammar or another, instead of enriching the notion of composition, is not always an innocuous move, leading to fully equivalent (...)
  13. The Science of Meaning: Essays on the Metatheory of Natural Language Semantics.Derek Ball & Brian Rabern (eds.) - 2018 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    By creating certain marks on paper, or by making certain sounds-breathing past a moving tongue-or by articulation of hands and bodies, language users can give expression to their mental lives. With language we command, assert, query, emote, insult, and inspire. Language has meaning. This fact can be quite mystifying, yet a science of linguistic meaning-semantics-has emerged at the intersection of a variety of disciplines: philosophy, linguistics, computer science, and psychology. Semantics is the study of meaning. But what exactly is "meaning"? (...)
  14. Direct Compositionality.Chris Barker & Pauline I. Jacobson (eds.) - 2007 - 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, (...)
  15. Compositional Semantics for Expressivists.Arvid Båve - 2013 - 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 is shown (...)
  16. Pure Quotation, Metalanguage and Metasemantics.André Bazzoni - 2016 - Linguistics and Philosophy 39 (2):119-149.
    Every theory of pure quotation embraces in some form or another the intuitively obvious thesis that pure quotations refer to their quoted expressions. However, they all remain vague about the nature of these latter. This paper proposes to take seriously the fact that quoted items are semantic, not syntactic objects, and to develop therefrom a semantics for pure quotation that retains the basic intuitions and at the same time circumvents standard problems.
  17. The Generality Constraint and the Structure of Thought.Jacob Beck - 2012 - 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 (...)
  18. Semantica: Dalle Parole Alle Frasi.Valentina Bianchi - 2012 - Carocci.
  19. Scope in English: Analysis in CCG+UC2.Maria Bittner - manuscript
    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.
  20. From Kalaallisut to English: Analysis in CCG+UC2.Maria Bittner - manuscript
    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).
  21. Scope in Kalaallisut: Analysis in CCG+UC2.Maria Bittner - manuscript
    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.
  22. Semantic Composition: Kalaallisut in CCG+UC1.Maria Bittner - manuscript
    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.
  23. Word Order and Incremental Update.Maria Bittner - 2003 - 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 (...)
  24. Quantification in Eskimo: A Challenge for Compositional Semantics.Maria Bittner - 1995 - In E. Bach, E. Jelinek, A. Kratzer & B. Partee (eds.), Quantification in Natural Languages. Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 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.
  25. Holism, Hyper-Analyticity and Hyper-Compositionality.Ned Block - 1993 - Mind and Language 8 (1):1-26.
  26. Interpreting Images.Ben Blumson - 2014 - In Resemblance and Representation. Open Book Publishers. pp. 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 (...)
  27. Depiction and Composition.Ben Blumson - 2014 - In Resemblance and Representation. Open Book Publishers. pp. 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 (...)
  28. When Compositionality Fails to Predict Systematicity.Reinhard Blutner, Petra Hendriks, Helen de Hoop & Oren Schwartz - 2004 - In Simon D. Levy & Ross Gayler (eds.), Compositional Connectionism in Cognitive Science. AAAI Press.
    has to do with the acquisition of encyclopedic knowledge.
  29. Compositionality and Molecularism.Denis Bonnay - 2005 - In Gerhard Schurz, Edouard Machery & Markus Werning (eds.), Applications to Linguistics, Psychology and Neuroscience. De Gruyter. pp. 41-62.
  30. Compositionality Solves Carnap’s Problem.Denis Bonnay & Dag Westerståhl - 2016 - Erkenntnis 81 (4):721-739.
    The standard relation of logical consequence allows for non-standard interpretations of logical constants, as was shown early on by Carnap. But then how can we learn the interpretations of logical constants, if not from the rules which govern their use? Answers in the literature have mostly consisted in devising clever rule formats going beyond the familiar what follows from what. A more conservative answer is possible. We may be able to learn the correct interpretations from the standard rules, because the (...)
  31. Intentions and Compositionality.Steffen Borge - 2009 - SATS 10 (1):100-106.
    It has been argued that philosophers that base their theories of meaning on communicative intentions and language conventions cannot accommodate the fact that natural languages are compositional. In this paper I show that if we pay careful attention to Grice's notion of “resultant procedures” we see that this is not the case. The argument, if we leave out all the technicalities, is fairly simple. Resultant procedures tell you how to combine utterance parts, like words, into larger units, like sentences. You (...)
  32. Quotation: Compositionality and Innocence Without Demonstration.Andrew Botterell & Robert J. Stainton - 2005 - Critica 37 (110):3-33.
    We discuss two kinds of quotation, namely indirect quotation and pure quotation. With respect to each, we have both a negative and a positive plaint. The negative plaint is that the strict Davidsonian treatment of indirect and pure quotation cannot be correct. The positive plaint is an alternative account of how quotation of these two sorts works. /// Discutimos dos tipos de citas, a saber, citas indirectas y citas puras. Hacemos dos planteamientos, uno positivo y otro negativo, con respecto a (...)
  33. Proto-Discourse and the Emergence of Compositionality.Jill Bowie - 2008 - Interaction Studies 9 (1):18-33.
  34. Proto-Discourse and the Emergence of Compositionality.Jillian Bowie - 2008 - Interaction Studiesinteraction Studies Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systems 9 (1):18-33.
  35. Perspectives, Compositionality and Complex Concepts.Nick Braisby - 2005 - In Gerhard Schurz, Edouard Machery & Markus Werning (eds.), Applications to Linguistics, Psychology and Neuroscience. De Gruyter. pp. 179-202.
  36. Compositionality and the Modelling of Complex Concepts.Nick Braisby - 1998 - 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 (...)
  37. Presuppositional TOO, Postsuppositional TOO.Adrian Brasoveanu & Anna Szabolcsi - 2013 - 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 (...)
  38. On Context Shifters and Compositionality in Natural Languages.Adrian Briciu - 2018 - Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 25 (1):2-20.
    My modest aim in this paper is to prove certain relations between some type of hyper-intensional operators, namely context shifting operators, and compositionality in natural languages. Various authors (e.g. von Fintel & Matthewson 2008; Stalnaker 2014) have argued that context-shifting operators are incompatible with compositionality. In fact, some of them understand Kaplan’s (1989) famous ban on context-shifting operators as a constraint on compositionality. Others, (e.g. Rabern 2013) take contextshifting operators to be compatible with compositionality but, unfortunately, do not provide a (...)
  39. Compositionality, Linguistic Evolution, and Induction by Minimum Description Length.Henry Brighton - 2005 - In Gerhard Schurz, Edouard Machery & Markus Werning (eds.), Applications to Linguistics, Psychology and Neuroscience. De Gruyter. pp. 13-40.
  40. Compositionality, Aberrant Sentences and Unfamiliar Situations.Filip Buekens - 2005 - In Gerhard Schurz, Edouard Machery & Markus Werning (eds.), Applications to Linguistics, Psychology and Neuroscience. De Gruyter. pp. 63-82.
  41. Principles of Linguistic Composition Below and Beyond the Clause: Elements of a Semantic Combinatorial System.Peer F. Bundgaard - 2006 - Pragmatics and Cognitionpragmatics and Cognition 14 (3):501-525.
  42. Content, Context, and Compositionality.Keith Butler - 1995 - Mind and Language 10 (1-2):3-24.
  43. Compositionality in Cognitive Models: The Real Issue. [REVIEW]Keith Butler - 1995 - Philosophical Studies 78 (2):153-62.
  44. Compositionality and the Manifestation Challenge.Darragh Byrne - 2005 - 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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  45. Meaning Without Analyticity: Essays on Logic, Language and Meaning.H. G. Callaway - 2008 - Cambridge Scholars Press.
    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 (...)
  46. Connectionism and Compositionality: Why Fodor and Pylyshyn Were Wrong.David J. Chalmers - 1993 - 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 (...)
  47. Donkeys Under Discussion.Lucas Champollion, Dylan Bumford & Robert Henderson - forthcoming - Semantics and Pragmatics.
    Donkey sentences have existential and universal readings, but they are not often perceived as ambiguous. We extend the pragmatic theory of nonmaximality in plural definites by Križ (2016) to explain how context disambiguates donkey sentences. We propose that the denotations of such sentences produce truth-value gaps — in certain scenarios the sentences are neither true nor false — and demonstrate that Križ’s pragmatic theory fills these gaps to generate the standard judgments of the literature. Building on Muskens’s (1996) Compositional Discourse (...)
  48. Lexical Misunderstandings and Prototype Theory.Rebecca Clift - 1998 - AI and Society 12 (3):109-133.
    This paper uses examples of conversational understandings, misunderstandings and non-understandings to explore the role of prototypes and schemata in conversational understanding. An investigation of the procedures by which we make sense of lexical items in utterances by fitting prototypes into schemata is followed by an examination of how schemata are instantiated across conversational sequences by means of topics. In interaction, conflicts over meaning illuminate the decisive role of social and cultural factors in understanding. Overall, understanding is seen to be critically (...)
  49. Inverted Space: Minimal Verificationism, Propositional Attitudes, and Compositionality.Jon Cogburn & Roy Cook - 2005 - Philosophia 32 (1-4):73-92.
  50. Is Compositionality an a Priori Principle?Daniel Cohnitz - 2005 - 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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