Context and the Composition of Meaning

Key ingredients in discourse meaning are reference markers: objects in the formal representation that the discourse is about. It is well-known that reference markers are not like first order variables. Indeed, it is the received view that reference markers are like the variables in imperative programming languages. However, in a computational semantics of discourse that treats reference markers as ‘dynamically bound’ variables, every noun phrase will get linked to a dynamic variable, so it will give rise to a marker index. Where do these indices come from? How do we handle them when combining (or ‘merging’) pieces of discourse? We will argue that reference markers are better treated as indices into context, and we will present a theory of context and context extension based on this view. In context semantics, noun phrases do not come with fixed indices, so the merge problem does not arise. This solves a vexing issue with coordination that causes trouble for all current versions of compositional discourse representation theory.
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