The emptiness of the lexicon: Critical reflections on J. Pustejovsky's the generative lexicon

Linguistic Inquiry 29:269-288 (1998)
Abstract
A certain metaphysical thesis about meaning that we'll call Informational Role Semantics (IRS) is accepted practically universally in linguistics, philosophy and the cognitive sciences: the meaning (or content, or `sense') of a linguistic expression1 is constituted, at least in part, by at least some of its inferential relations. This idea is hard to state precisely, both because notions like metaphysical constitution are moot and, more importantly, because different versions of IRS take different views on whether there are constituents of meaning other than inferential role, and on which of the inferences an expression occurs in are meaning constitutive. Some of these issues will presently concern us; but for now it will do just to gesture towards such familiar claims as that: it's part and parcel of dog meaning dog2 that the inference from x is a dog to x is an animal is valid; it's part and parcel of boil meaning boil that the inference from x boiled y to y boiled is valid; it's part and parcel of kill meaning kill that the inference from x killed y to y died is valid; and so on. (See Cruse, Ch. 1 and passim.) IRS brings in its train a constellation of ancillary doctrines. Presumably, for example, if an inference is constitutive of the meaning of a word, then learning the word involves learning that the inference holds. If dog means dog because dog ---> animal is valid, then knowing that dog ---> animal is valid is part and parcel of knowing what the word dog means; and, similarly, learning that x boiled y ---> y boiled is part and parcel of learning what boil means, and so forth. IRS constrains grammatical theories. The semantic lexicon of a language is supposed to make explicit whatever one has to know to understand the lexical expressions of the language, so IRS implies that meaning constitutive inferences are part of the semantic lexical entries for items that have them. Lexical entries are thus typically complex objects (`bundles of inferences') according to standard interpretations of IRS..
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