Linguistics and Philosophy 32 (6):553-581 (2009)

Ofra Magidor
Oxford University
Category mistakes are sentences such as ‘Colourless green ideas sleep furiously’ or ‘The theory of relativity is eating breakfast’. Such sentences are highly anomalous, and this has led a large number of linguists and philosophers to conclude that they are meaningless (call this ‘the meaninglessness view’). In this paper I argue that the meaninglessness view is incorrect and category mistakes are meaningful. I provide four arguments against the meaninglessness view: in Sect. 2, an argument concerning compositionality with respect to category mistakes; in Sect. 3 an argument concerning synonymy facts of category mistakes; in Sect. 4 concerning embeddings of category mistakes in propositional attitude ascriptions; and in Sect. 5 concerning the uses of category mistakes in metaphors. Having presented these arguments, in Sect. 6 I briefly discuss some of the positive motivations for accepting the meaninglessness view and argue that they are unconvincing. I conclude that the meaninglessness view ought to be rejected.
Keywords Category mistakes  Selectional restrictions  Selectional violations  Compositionality  Semantics  Foundations of semantics  Montague Grammar  Type theoretic semantics  Colorless green ideas sleep furiously  Meaning  Meaningfulness  Meaninglessness  Nonsense
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DOI 10.1007/s10988-010-9067-0
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References found in this work BETA

The Varieties of Reference.Gareth Evans - 1982 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.Noam Chomsky - 1965 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.

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