Meaning and Formal Semantics in Generative Grammar

Erkenntnis 80 (1):61-87 (2015)

Authors
Stephen Schiffer
New York University
Abstract
A generative grammar for a language L generates one or more syntactic structures for each sentence of L and interprets those structures both phonologically and semantically. A widely accepted assumption in generative linguistics dating from the mid-60s, the Generative Grammar Hypothesis , is that the ability of a speaker to understand sentences of her language requires her to have tacit knowledge of a generative grammar of it, and the task of linguistic semantics in those early days was taken to be that of specifying the form that the semantic component of a generative grammar must take. Then in the 70s linguistic semantics took a curious turn. Without rejecting GGH, linguists turned away from the task of characterizing the semantic component of a generative grammar to pursue instead the Montague-inspired project of providing for natural languages the same kind of model-theoretic semantics that logicians devise for the artificial languages of formal systems of logic, and “formal semantics” continues to dominate semantics in linguistics. This essay argues that the sort of compositional meaning theory that would verify GGH would not only be quite different from the theories formal semanticists construct, but would be a more fundamental theory that supersedes those theories in that it would explain why they are true when they are true, but their truth wouldn’t explain its truth. Formal semantics has undoubtedly made important contributions to our understanding of such phenomena as anaphora and quantification, but semantics in linguistics is supposed to be the study of meaning. This means that the formal semanticist can’t be unconcerned that the kind of semantic theory for a natural language that interests her has no place in a theory of linguistic competence; for if GGH is correct, then the more fundamental semantic theory is the compositional meaning theory that is the semantic component of the internally represented generative grammar, and if that is so, then linguistic semantics has so far ignored what really ought to be its primary concern.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
ISBN(s)
DOI 10.1007/s10670-014-9660-7
Options
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Saving Truth From Paradox.Hartry Field - 2008 - Oxford University Press.
The Things We Mean.Stephen Schiffer - 2003 - Oxford University Press.

View all 16 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

The Edenic Theory of Reference.Elmar Unnsteinsson - 2018 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 62 (3):276-308.
Formal Semantics and Applied Mathematics: An Inferential Account.Ryan M. Nefdt - forthcoming - Journal of Logic, Language and Information:1-33.
Semantic Possibility.Wolfgang Schwarz - 2018 - In Derek Ball & Brian Rabern (eds.), The Science of Meaning. Oxford University Press. pp. 361-380.

View all 6 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Lambda Grammars and the Syntax-Semantics Interface.Reinhard Muskens - 2001 - In Robert Van Rooij & Martin Stokhof (eds.), Proceedings of the Thirteenth Amsterdam Colloquium. Amsterdam: ILLC. pp. 150-155.
Topic, Focus and Generative Semantics.Petr Sgall - 1973 - Kronberg Taunus, Scriptor Verlag.
Direct Compositionality.Chris Barker & Pauline I. Jacobson (eds.) - 2007 - Oxford University Press.
Syntax and Semantics: An Overview.Arnim von Stechow - 2012 - In Klaus von Heusinger, Claudia Maienborn & Paul Portner (eds.), Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning. De Gruyter Mouton.

Analytics

Added to PP index
2013-10-16

Total views
1,080 ( #2,156 of 2,260,175 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
267 ( #1,396 of 2,260,175 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature