Edited by Brendan Balcerak Jackson (University of Miami, Cornell University)
About this topic
Summary A semantics for a particular language L is a theory that maps each sentence of L onto its meaning, usually by having theorems of the appropriate form among its deductive consequences. It is standard (although controversial) to require an adequate semantics for L to be compositional – that is, to show how the meaning of each sentence of L is determined by the meanings of its basic lexical items and its syntactic structure. A central foundational question about semantics concerns its proper object of study: what features of an expression count as its semantic ones? One standard answer is that semantics should be “outward-looking” and concern itself with the word-world relational features of expressions, especially those that determine the truth-conditions of sentences. Another influential answer is that semantics should be “inward-looking” and concern itself with relationships between expressions and mental representations. Further important questions concern how linguistic meaning interacts with features of extra-linguistic context, how semantic and pragmatic phenomena are to be distinguished, and what role (if any) an adequate semantics for L should play in explaining the capacity of competent L-speakers to use and understand utterances in L.    
Key works See Davidson 1967, Soames 2009, Jackendoff 1990 and Higginbotham 1992 for important discussions of the proper object of study for semantics. Montague 1974 and Partee 1973 are crucial texts on the application of formal methods to the semantics of natural language. Devitt 2006 is a critical discussion on the role of semantic theory (and linguistics more generally) in explaining linguistic competence. Kaplan 1989 is a landmark treatment of context-sensitivity within semantic theory. Preyer & Peter 2007 and Szabó 2005 are valuable collections that discuss some of the controversies about the role of context in semantics and about how to distinguish semantics from pragmatics, respectively.
Introductions Good introductions to natural language semantics are Heim & Kratzer 1998, Larson & Segal 1995, and Chierchia & McConnell-Ginet 2000. Portner & Partee 2002 is a collection of important primary texts.
Related categories
Subcategories:History/traditions: Semantics

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  1. Descriptivism. [REVIEW]E. J. A. - 1965 - Review of Metaphysics 19 (1):153-153.
  2. The Indefiniteness of Definiteness.Barbara Abbott - unknown
    This paper is about the difficulties involved in establishing criteria for definiteness. A number of possibilities are considered – traditional ones such as strength, uniqueness, and familiarity, as well as several which have been suggested in the wake of Montague’s analysis of NPs as generalized quantifiers. My tentative conclusion is that Russell’s uniqueness characteristic (suitably modified) holds up well against the others.
  3. The Dynamic Value of Content.E. Stanley Abbott - 1917 - Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 14 (2):41-49.
  4. Propositions or Choice Functions: What Do Quantifiers Quantify Over.Klaus Abels & Luiza Martí - forthcoming - Natural Language Semantics.
  5. Selected Books and Articles by Ferenc Kiefer in Semantics and Pragmatics.Samu Abraham - 2001 - In Robert M. Harrish & Istvan Kenesei (eds.), Perspectives on Semantics, Pragmatics, and Discourse. John Benjamins. pp. 90.
  6. Index of Names: Volume 28.S. Abramsky, D. Abusch, A. Akmajian, M. Aloni, A. Anderson, C. Anderson, P. Andrews, E. Anscombe, G. Anscombe & T. Aquinus - 2005 - Linguistics and Philosophy 28 (6):783-790.
  7. A Semantics for Degree Questions Based on Intervals: Negative Islands and Their Obviation.M. Abrusan & B. Spector - 2011 - Journal of Semantics 28 (1):107-147.
    According to the standard analysis of degree questions (see, among others, Rullmann 1995; Beck & Rullmann 1996), the logical form of a degree question contains a variable that ranges over individual degrees and is bound by the degree question operator how. In contrast with this, we claim that the variable bound by the degree question operator how does not range over individual degrees but over intervals of degrees, by analogy with Schwarzschild and Wilkinson's (2002) proposal regarding the semantics of comparative (...)
  8. Presupposition Cancellation: Explaining the ‘Soft–Hard’ Trigger Distinction.Márta Abrusán - 2016 - Natural Language Semantics 24 (2):165-202.
    Some presuppositions are easier to cancel than others in embedded contexts. This contrast has been used as evidence for distinguishing two fundamentally different kinds of presuppositions, ‘soft’ and ‘hard’. ‘Soft’ presuppositions are usually assumed to arise in a pragmatic way, while ‘hard’ presuppositions are thought to be genuine semantic presuppositions. This paper argues against such a distinction and proposes to derive the difference in cancellation from inherent differences in how presupposition triggers interact with the context: their focus sensitivity, anaphoricity, and (...)
  9. A Semantics for Degree Questions Based on Intervals: Negative Islands and Their Obviation: Articles.M. árta AbrusáN. & Benjamin Spector - 2011 - Journal of Semantics 28 (1):107-147.
    According to the standard analysis of degree questions, the logical form of a degree question contains a variable that ranges over individual degrees and is bound by the degree question operator how. In contrast with this, we claim that the variable bound by the degree question operator how does not range over individual degrees but over intervals of degrees, by analogy with Schwarzschild and Wilkinson's proposal regarding the semantics of comparative clauses. Not only does the interval-based semantics predict the existence (...)
  10. Quantification in Ordinary Language and Proof Theory.Michele Abrusci & Pasquali - 2016 - Philosophia Scientiæ 20:185-205.
    This paper gives an overview of the common approach to quantification and generalised quantification in formal linguistics and philosophy of language. We point out how this usual general framework represents a departure from empirical linguistic data. We briefly sketch a different idea for proof theory which is closer to the language itself than standard approaches in many aspects. We stress the importance of Hilbert’s operators—the epsilon-operator for existential and tau-operator for universal quantifications. Indeed, these operators are helpful in the construction (...)
  11. Indexical and Symbolic Referencing: What Role Do They Play in Children's Success on Theory of Mind Tasks?Ahmad Abu-Akel & Alison L. Bailey - 2001 - Cognition 80 (3):263-281.
  12. Context Dependent Knowledge.Robert Ackermann - 1982 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 42 (3):425-433.
  13. Lexical Guidance in Sentence Parsing.B. C. Adams, Ce Clifton & D. C. Mitchell - 1991 - Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 29 (6):490-490.
  14. Studies in Tocharian Vocabulary, I: Four Verbs.Douglas Adams - 1982 - Journal of the American Oriental Society 102 (1):133-136.
  15. On the Meaning of the Conditional.Emest W. Adams - 1987 - Philosophical Topics 15 (1):5-22.
  16. Modality and Abstract Concepts.Fred Adams & Kenneth Campbell - 1999 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (4):610-610.
    Our concerns fall into three areas: (1) Barsalou fails to make clear what simulators are (vs. what they do); (2) activation of perceptual areas of the brain during thought does not distinguish between the activation's being constitutive of concepts or a mere causal consequence (Barsalou needs the former); and (3) Barsalou's attempt to explain how modal symbols handle abstraction fails.
  17. The Floyd Puzzle: Reply to Yagisawa.Fred Adams, Robert Stecker & Gary Fuller - 1993 - Analysis 53 (1):36 - 40.
  18. 'X' Means X: Fodor/Warfield Semantics. [REVIEW]Frederick R. Adams & Kenneth Aizawa - 1994 - Minds and Machines 4 (2):215-31.
    In an earlier paper, we argued that Fodorian Semantics has serious difficulties. However, we suggested possible ways that one might attempt to fix this. Ted Warfield suggests that our arguments can be deflected and he does this by making the very moves that we suggested. In our current paper, we respond to Warfield's attempts to revise and defend Fodorian Semantics against our arguments that such a semantic theory is both too strong and too weak. To get around our objections, Warfield (...)
  19. Fodorian Semantics, Pathologies, and "Block's Problem".Frederick R. Adams & Kenneth Aizawa - 1993 - Minds and Machines 3 (1):97-104.
    In two recent books, Jerry Fodor has developed a set of sufficient conditions for an object “X” to non-naturally and non-derivatively mean X. In an earlier paper we presented three reasons for thinking Fodor's theory to be inadequate. One of these problems we have dubbed the “Pathologies Problem”. In response to queries concerning the relationship between the Pathologies Problem and what Fodor calls “Block's Problem”, we argue that, while Block's Problem does not threatenFodor's view, the Pathologies Problem does.
  20. 'X' Means X: Semantics Fodor-Style. [REVIEW]Frederick R. Adams & Kenneth Aizawa - 1992 - Minds and Machines 2 (2):175-83.
    InPsychosemantics Jerry Fodor offered a list of sufficient conditions for a symbol “X” to mean something X. The conditions are designed to reduce meaning to purely non-intentional natural relations. They are also designed to solve what Fodor has dubbed the “disjunction problem”. More recently, inA Theory of Content and Other Essays, Fodor has modified his list of sufficient conditions for naturalized meaning in light of objections to his earlier list. We look at his new set of conditions and give his (...)
  21. The Semantics of Thought.Frederick R. Adams, Robert A. Stecker & Gary Fuller - 1992 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 73 (4):375-389.
  22. The Logical Copula and Quantification of the Predicate.Edward Adamson - 1897
  23. Varieties of Context-Dependence.T. Adeusz Ciecierski - 2010 - In Piotr Stalmaszczyk (ed.), Philosophy of Language and Linguistics. Ontos Verlag.
  24. Now Published: Volume VIII, Number 42, May 2016. Includes an Article by the Disputatio Lecturer 2015, Jason Stanley. Admin - forthcoming - Disputatio.
  25. Now Published: Vol. V, No. 36, October 2013 – Book Symposium on François Recanati’s Mental Files, Edited by Fiora Salis. [REVIEW] Admin - 2013 - Disputatio.
  26. Linguistic Markers of Recovery: Semantic, Syntactic and Pragmatic Changes in the Use of First Person Pronouns in the Course of Psychotherapy.van Staden - South Africa - 2003 - In Bill Fulford, Katherine Morris, John Z. Sadler & Giovanni Stanghellini (eds.), Nature and Narrative: An Introduction to the New Philosophy of Psychiatry. Oxford University Press.
  27. Quanta in Context.Joseph Agassi - manuscript
    The context of a scientific theory can be epistemological and methodological. Or it car be metaphysical, relating to the intellectual framework within which we cast it. Or it can be intertheoretical, both synchronically and diachronically. My concern here will be mainly diachronical -- the historical context of quantum theory, what is required of it vis -a-vis that context and how well it fulfills this requirement. But I shall come to this only at the later part of this essay. I shall (...)
  28. Factuality and Modality.Manuel Aguirre - 1976 - Universitaire Instelling Antwerpen, Departementen Ger & Rom, Afd. Linguis̈tiek.
  29. Presupposition Incorporation in Adverbial Quantifier Domains.David D. Ahn - 2005 - In Emar Maier, Corien Bary & Janneke Huitink (eds.), Proceedings of Sub9. pp. 16--29.
  30. Poetry and Music. Baudelaire Et Fauré : Du Sens Poetique au Sens Musical.Rose-Marie Alarcon - 2010 - In Pierre-Alexis Mevel & Helen Tattam (eds.), Language and its Contexts: Transposition and Transformation of Meaning? = le Langage Et Ses Contexts: Transposition Et Transformation du Sens? Peter Lang.
  31. The First-Person Singular: A Semantic and Metaphysical Investigation.Kelly Thomas Alberts - 1980 - Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles
    In the first chapter we consider an account of 'I' sketched by Wittgenstein in The Blue and Brown Books. Sidney Shoemaker has proposed a theory intended to function as an alternative to Wittgenstein's, and in Chapter I we also evaluate this account. The conclusion of the chapter is that both views are unsound because they are based upon epistemological factors irrelevant, in the final analysis, to a semantic account of 'I'. Chapter II investigates the idea that the first-person singular refers (...)
  32. The Elements of Mathematical Semantics.M. V. Aldridge - 1992 - Mouton De Gruyter.
    Chapter Some topics in semantics Aims of this study The central preoccupation of this study is semantic. It is intended as a modest contribution to the ...
  33. Spornye Problemy Semantiki.M. F. Alefirenko - 2005 - Gnōsis.
  34. Problemy Frazeologicheskogo Znachenii͡a I Smysla: V Aspekte Mezhurovnevogo Vzaimodeĭstvii͡a I͡azykovykh Edinit͡s: Monografii͡a.M. F. Alefirenko - 2004 - Izdatelʹskiĭ Dom "Astrakhanskiĭ Universitet".
  35. Complementary Descriptions.Peter Alexander - 1956 - Mind 65 (258):145-165.
  36. Referent Ontology and Centering in Discourse.Maes Alfons - 1997 - Journal of Semantics 14 (3).
  37. Natural Language Processing Using a Propositional Semantic Network with Structured Variables.Syed S. Ali & Stuart C. Shapiro - 1993 - Minds and Machines 3 (4):421-451.
    We describe a knowledge representation and inference formalism, based on an intensional propositional semantic network, in which variables are structures terms consisting of quantifier, type, and other information. This has three important consequences for natural language processing. First, this leads to an extended, more natural formalism whose use and representations are consistent with the use of variables in natural language in two ways: the structure of representations mirrors the structure of the language and allows re-use phenomena such as pronouns and (...)
  38. Current Methods in Historical Semantics.Kathryn Allan & Justyna A. Robinson (eds.) - 2011 - De Gruyter Mouton.
  39. Natural Language Semantics.Keith Allan - 2001 - Blackwell.
    This volume offers a general introduction to the field of semantics and provides coverage of the main perspectives.
  40. Interpreting English Comparatives.Keith Allan - 1986 - Journal of Semantics 5 (1):1-50.
    This paper attempts to clarify the way in which we interpret English comparatives. It shows that recognition of a comparative depends primarily on the recognition of the comparative operator, cl. The cl has two constituents (1) a comparative marker which, because there are less than a dozen of them, makes cl readily recognizable; and (2) a scale marker. I argue that comparisons are made on a particular scale, and that scales have a supra end and a sub end; the scale (...)
  41. Linguistic Meaning.Keith Allan - 1986 - Routledge & Kegan Paul.
    Chapter Beginning an account of linguistic meaning: speaker, hearer, context, and utterance Pity the poor analyst, who has to do the best he can with ...
  42. Bbvrlp> Fmraflbivhlbhhrnnehkei.James F. Allen - 1993 - Journal of Semantics 10.
  43. On the Distinctions Between Semantics and Pragmatics.Jens Allwood - 1981 - In W. Klein & W. Levelt (eds.), Crossing the Boundaries in Linguistics. Reidel. pp. 177--189.
  44. On the Semantics and Pragmatics of Linguistic Feedback.Jens Allwood, Joakim Nivre & Elisabeth Ahlsén - 1992 - Journal of Semantics 9 (1):1-26.
    This paper is an exploration in the semantics and pragmatics of linguistic feedback, i. e. linguistic mechanisms which enable the participants in spoken interaction to exchange information about basic communicative functions, such as contact, perception, understanding, and attitudinal reactions to the communicated content. Special attention is given to the type of reaction conveyed by feedback utterances, the communicative status of the information conveyed (i. e. the level of awareness and intentionality of the communicating sender), and the context sensitivity of feedback (...)
  45. The Complexity of Marketplace Logic.J. Almog - 1997 - Linguistics and Philosophy 20 (5):549-569.
  46. David Kaplan: The Man at Work.Joseph Almog - 2009 - In Joseph Almog & Paolo Leonardi (eds.), The Philosophy of David Kaplan. Oxford University Press. pp. 1.
  47. Logic and the World.Joseph Almog - 1989 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 18 (2):197 - 220.
  48. Whither Formal Semantics?Joseph Almog - 1983
  49. Dthis and Dthat: Indexicality Goes Beyond That.Joseph Almog - 1981 - Philosophical Studies 39 (4):347 - 381.
  50. The Cambridge Handbook of Formal Semantics.Maria Aloni & Paul Dekker (eds.) - 2016 - Cambridge University Press.
    Formal semantics - the scientific study of meaning in natural language - is one of the most fundamental and long-established areas of linguistics. This Handbook offers a comprehensive, yet compact guide to the field, bringing together research from a wide range of world-leading experts. Chapters include coverage of the historical context and foundation of contemporary formal semantics, a survey of the variety of formal/logical approaches to linguistic meaning and an overview of the major areas of research within current semantic theory, (...)
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