Compositionality and Understanding

ProtoSociology 31:50-58 (2014)
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Abstract

Contemporary debates on the principle of compositionality provoke a perplexing problem about its import on natural language. Whether the principle of compositionality makes any substantial constraints on the meaningfulness of natural language has an indeterminate answer. In this paper, I try to argue against the principle of compositionality for natural language by considering its significance for understanding. Part one is a general survey of the principle of compositionality pertaining to the meaning of a complex expression; and in part two, I will focus on the issue of understanding a sentence or more complex expression, pointing out that principle of compositionality is neither sufficient nor necessary for understanding, even though compositionality is true for natural language, it is trivial and useless; the final part aims to criticize the principle of compositionality from its underspecification of meaning, which is at odds with our general idea of the representational feature of natural language and the hypothesis of isomorphism among mind, language and reality.

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Fei YuGuo
Wuhan University

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