Emma Borg
University of Reading
Semantic minimalism is an attempt to answer two questions: ‘what counts as semantic content?’ and ‘what work does semantic content do?’. The answer the theory gives to both these questions is minimal (hence the name): first, semantic content is exhausted by the contributions made by the syntactic constituents of a sentence together with their mode of composition. Second the role played by this kind of content is much more constrained than is often supposed. With respect to the first question, semantic minimalism holds that content is entirely determined by syntax – there is nothing to be had ‘for free’, as it were, at the semantic level. Specifically, minimalism holds that it is not possible for features of the context of utterance to permeate semantic content unless their presence is demanded by something at the syntactic level. Furthermore, the syntactic elements which can trigger pragmatic intrusion are themselves limited to unarguably contextsensitive elements, such as words like ‘here’ and ‘now’. (Thus minimalism is not the thesis that semantic content is context-invariant, but that contextual infiltration of semantics is very limited.) So take utterances of the following sentences
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