Primarily a response to Paul Horwich's "Composition of Meanings", the paper attempts to refute his claim that compositionality—roughly, the idea that the meaning of a sentence is determined by the meanings of its parts and how they are there combined—imposes no substantial constraints on semantic theory or on our conception of the meanings of words or sentences. Show Abstract.
This paper provides both a solution and a problem for the account of compositionality in Christopher Peacocke’s modest inferentialism. The immediate issue facing Peacocke’s account is that it looks as if compositionality can only be understood at the level of semantics, which is difficult to reconcile with inferentialism. Here, following up a brief suggestion by Peacocke, I provide a formal framework wherein compositionality occurs the level of the determining relation between inference and semantics. This, in turn provides (...) a “test” for compositionality, which, problematically, Peacocke’s natural deduction framework for classical logic can not meet. To finish, I briefly outline an alternative, bilateralist, framework for modest inferentialism, for which compositionality holds. (shrink)
This paper is about compositionality, belief reports, and related issues. I begin by introducing Putnam’s proposal for understanding compositionality, namely that the sense of a sentence is a function of the sense of its parts and of its logical structure (section 1). Both Church and Sellars think that Putnam’s move is superfluous or unnecessary since there is no relevant puzzle to begin with (section 2). I will urge that Putnam is right in thinking that there is indeed a (...) puzzle with a discussion of translation and belief individuation (section 3). Later Salmon (2001/ 2007) reinforces Church’s position, but I will argue that it is still possible to make my case by clarifying the nature of my proposal, i.e., understanding explanations of action from the third-person point of view (section 4). Now, Fine (2007) agrees with Putnam that there is indeed a puzzle to be solved, but he argues that Putnam’s solution of it is problematic, and that his own semantic relationism is a better view. In response to this, I will recast the notion of compositionality based on a certain conception of belief individuation, namely that the semantic content of a sentence is a function of the semantic contents of its parts and of the structure of intensional discourses (sections 3 and 5). Finally the paper will end with a reconsideration of the recalcitrant Kripke’s puzzle about belief (1979/1988), since it might seem to put some pressure on my account. It turns out that my understanding of this puzzle is again different from Fine’s perspective (section 6). (shrink)
The present paper studies the general implications of theprinciple of compositionality for the organization of grammar.It will be argued that Janssen''s (1986) requirement that syntax andsemantics be similar algebras is too strong, and that the moreliberal requirement that syntax be interpretable into semanticsleads to a formalization that can be motivated and applied more easily,while it avoids the complications that encumber Janssen''s formalization.Moreover, it will be shown that this alternative formalization evenallows one to further complete the formal theory of (...) class='Hi'>compositionality, inthat it is capable of clarifying the role played by translation,model-theoretic interpretation and meaning postulates,of which the latter two aspects received little or no attention inMontague (1970) and Janssen (1986). (shrink)
This paper considers negative triggers and the interpretation of simple sentences containing more than one occurrence of those items . In the most typical interpretations those sentences have more negative expressions than negations in their semantic representation. It is first shown that this compositionality problem remains in current approaches. A principled algorithm for deriving the representation of sentences with multiple negative quantifiers in a DRT framework is then introduced. The algorithm is under the control of an on-line check-in, keeping (...) the complexity of negation auto-embedding below a threshold of complexity. This mechanism is seen as a competence limitation imposing the ‘abrogation of compositionality’ observed in the so-called negative concord readings . A solution to the compositionality problem is thus proposed, which is based on a control on the processing input motivated by a limitation of the processing mechanism itself. (shrink)
Paul Pietroski has developed a powerful minimalist and internalist alternative to standard compositional semantics, where meanings are identified with instructions to fetch or assemble human concepts in specific ways. In particular, there appears to be no need for Fregean Function Application, as natural language composition only involves processes of combining monadic or dyadic concepts, and Pietroski’s theory can then, allegedly, avoid both singular reference and truth conditions. He also has a negative agenda, purporting to show, roughly, that the vocabulary of (...) standard truth conditional semantics is far too powerful to plausibly describe the linguistic competence of mere human minds. In this paper, I explain some of the basics of Pietroski’s compositional semantics and argue that his major objection to standard compositionality is inconclusive, because a similar argument can be mounted against his own minimalist theory. I argue that we need a clear distinction between the language of the theorist---theoretical notation---and the language whose nature we are trying to explain. The theoretical notation should in fact be as expressively powerful as possible. It does not follow that the notation cannot be used to explain mere human linguistic competence, even if human minds are limited in various ways. (shrink)
A compositional theory of perceptual representations would explain how the accuracy conditions of a given type of perceptual state depend on the contents of constituent perceptual representations and the way those constituents are structurally related. Such a theory would offer a basic framework for understanding the nature, grounds, and epistemic significance of perception. But an adequate semantics of perceptual representations must accommodate the holistic nature of perception. In particular, perception is replete with context effects, in which the way one perceptually (...) represents one aspect of a scene (including the position, size, orientation, shape, color, motion, or even unity of an object) normally depends on how one represents many other aspects of the scene. The ability of existing accounts of the semantics of perception to analyze context effects is at best unclear. Context effects have even been thought to call into question the very feasibility of a systematic semantics of perception. After outlining a compositional semantics for a rudimentary set of percepts, I draw on empirical models from perceptual psychology to show how such a theory must be modified to analyze context effects. Context effects arise from substantive constraints on how perceptual representations can combine and from the different semantic roles that perceptual representations can have. I suggest that context effects are closely tied to the objectivity of perception. They arise from a perceptual grammar that functions to facilitate the composition of reliably accurate representations in an uncertain but structured world. (shrink)
In the past decade various linguists and philosophers (e.g. Pagin, Pelletier, Recanati, Westerståhl, Lasersohn) have proposed a weakening of the standard interpretation of compositionality for propositional content. Their move is motivated by the desire to accommodate radical forms of context sensitivity within a systematic account of natural languages. In this paper I argue against weakening compositionality in the way proposed by them. I argue that weak compositionality fails to provide some of the expected benefits of compositionality. (...) First, weak compositionality fails to provide systematic meaning-rules which can handle forms of context-sensitivity that are not amenable to explanation in terms of a fixed and limited set of contextual parameters. Secondly, I argue that weak-compositionality fails to play any role in explaining speakers’ ability to calculate the semantic values of complex expressions. I conclude that weak compositionality is not a viable alternative to standard interpretations of compositionality, and that it doesn’t offer an acceptable way to accommodate radical forms of context-sensitivity within a systematic account of natural languages. Given the central role that weak-compositionality plays in recent approaches to natural language (e.g. in truth-conditional pragmatics) this also casts doubt on the viability of these projects. (shrink)
Jerry Fodor and Ernie Lepore have produced a series of original and controversial essays on issues relating to compositionality in language and mind; they have now revised them all for publication together in this volume. Compositionality is the following aspect of a system of representation: the complex symbols in the system inherit their syntactic and semantic properties from the primitive symbols of the system. Fodor and Lepore argue that compositionality determines what view we must take of the (...) nature of concepts. Anyone trying to figure out how language and mind work must take account of this challenging work by two leading figures in the field. (shrink)
This course aims to assess the principle of compositionality (CP) and how it fits with recent developments in natural language interpretation, especially those that stress the role of context. We first try to lay down a suitable formal framework for CP, reviewing proposals by Montague, Janssen, Hendriks, Kracht and Hodges. Versions of CP of varying strength are formulated, and some recent results on the existence of compositional semantics and the (much debated) issue of the empirical import of CP discussed. (...) Complementing CP is the notion of context which, under modern (e.g. "dynamic") conceptions, not only conditions interpretation but also is transformed during interpretation. The tension between CP and context is examined relative to problems of anaphora, presupposition, idioms and ambiguity. A somewhat un-orthodox computational application of CP is suggested, emphasizing co-inductive aspects of interpretation that cut across the divide between model-theoretic and proof-theoretic approaches, and between procedural and declarative styles. (shrink)
Open Compositionality: Towards a Methodology of Language offers a fresh view into human languages as supermodular, highly interactive cognitive capacities allowing for human unique thought and communication. It is a novel account of semantics as decision-making in tandem with the cognition first methodology.
CompositionalityCompositionality is a concept in the philosophy of language. A symbolic system is compositional if the meaning of every complex expression E in that system depends on, and depends only on, E’s syntactic structure and the meanings of E’s simple parts. If a language is compositional, then the meaning of a sentence … Continue reading Compositionality →.
Compositionality in Plant Fixed Expressions Shelley Ching-yu Hsieh, Chinfa Lien, Sebastian Meier Abstract This paper examines fixed expressions that contain plant names in Mandarin Chinese and German corpora. It aims to reveal the compositionality of the concepts of the vehicle flower by means of frame semantics, and then popular vehicles (plant names) and underlying conceits (the associations between vehicles and meanings) of plant fixed expressions in these two languages will be explored. The linguistic frames of flowers show that (...) German focuses on function by adopting usability and edibility of plants in their expressions, whereas Mandarin Chinese perceives outer appearance of plants and compile “visualized” Chinese expressions. People observe and perceive plants from different standpoints and thus compose different concepts in their minds and languages. Chinese vehicles fall mainly into the categories of trees and flowers, while German vehicles are fruits and divisions of plants such as seeds and roots. This confirms the functional and visual perspective of the respective languages and further suggests the individualism of the Germans as well as the holism of the Mandarin Chinese speakers. (shrink)
The lack of conceptual analysis within cognitive science results in multiple models of the same phenomena. However, these models incorporate assumptions that contradict basic structural features of the domain they are describing. This is particularly true about the domain of mathematical cognition. In this paper we argue that foundational theoretic aspects of psychological models for language and arithmetic should be clarified before postulating such models. We propose a means to clarify these foundational concepts by analyzing the distinctions between metric and (...) linguistic compositionality, which we use to assess current models of mathematical cognition. Our proposal is consistent with the scientific methodology that determines that careful conceptual analysis should precede theoretical descriptions of data. 2012 APA, all rights reserved). (shrink)
The goal of inquiry in this essay is to ascertain to what extent the Principle of Compositionality – the thesis that the meaning of a complex expression is determined by the meaning of its parts and its mode of composition – can be justifiably imposed as a constraint on semantic theories, and thereby provide information about what meanings are. Apart from the introduction and the concluding chapter the thesis is divided into five chapters addressing different questions pertaining to the (...) overarching goal of inquiry. Chapter Two is an attempt to determine whether the Principle of Compositionality is a trivial principle. It is argued that this is not the case in the context of providing the semantics of natural languages since it is an open question whether the best theories that respect available syntactic and semantic data are compositional. Chapter Three and Chapter Four ask whether there are reasons to think that the Principle of Compositionality is true. It is argued that the three most commonly cited reasons for thinking that correct semantic theories must be compositional – Linguistic Creativity, Productivity and Systematicity – in fact only give us reasons to think that the meaning of complex expressions depend on the meanings of their parts and their modes of composition, but not that the meaning of complex expressions depend ONLY on those factors. Chapter Five asks whether there are any reasons to think that the Principle of Compositionality is false. It is argued that all the phenomena that have been suggested entail non-compositionality are in fact compatible with some versions of compositionality. Even if this conclusion is reached in this chapter, the conclusion of the previous two chapters entails that we are not justified in imposing the Principle of Compositionality as an adequacy constraint on Semantic theories. Chapter Six explores the ways in which information about what meanings are can be derived by imposing constraints on semantic theories. It is argued that the distinction emphasized in Chapter Three and Chapter Four between depending on and depending ONLY on is of critical importance. It is demonstrated that the informative potential of the Principle of Compositionality goes far beyond that of the principle we are in fact justified in imposing on semantic theories. So not only is it the case that we cannot learn anything about meanings from the justified imposition of the Principle of Compositionality – since we cannot justifiably impose it as a constraint on semantic theories – what we could have learned from it had we been justified in imposing it is very different from what we can learn from the principle that we are justified in imposing. (shrink)
Book Information The Compositionality Papers. The Compositionality Papers Jerry A. Fodor and Ernest Lepore , Oxford: Clarendon Press , 2002 , viii + 212 , US$65.00 ( cloth ), US$19.95 ( paper ) By Jerry A. Fodor. and Ernest Lepore. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Pp. viii + 212. US$65.00 (cloth:), US$19.95 (paper:).
This book examines the hypothesis of "direct compositionality", which requires that semantic interpretation proceed in tandem with syntactic combination. Although associated with the dominant view in formal semantics of the 1970s and 1980s, the feasibility of direct compositionality remained unsettled, and more recently the discussion as to whether or not this view can be maintained has receded. The syntax-semantics interaction is now often seen as a process in which the syntax builds representations which, at the abstract level of (...) logical form, are sent for interpretation to the semantics component of the language faculty. In the first extended discussion of the hypothesis of direct compositionality for twenty years, this book considers whether its abandonment might have been premature and whether in fact direct compositionality is not after all a simpler and more effective conception of the grammar than the conventional account of the syntax-semantics interface in generative grammar. It contains contributions from both sides of the debate, locates the debate in the setting of a variety of formal theories, and draws on examples from a range of languages and a range of empirical phenomena. (shrink)
When reasons are given for compositionality, the arguments usually purport to establish compositionality in an almost a priori manner. I will rehearse these arguments why one could think that compositionality is a priori true, or almost a priori true, and will find all of them inconclusive. This, in itself, is no reason against compositionality, but a reason to try to establish or defend the principle on other than quasi-a priori grounds.
The aim of this paper is to introduce Robert Brandom’s Inferentialism (Inferential theory of meaning) and Fodor and Lepore’ compositionality objection, and to protect Inferentialism from the objection based on compositionality. According to Inferentialism, To grasp or understand a concept is to have practical mastery over the inferences in which it is involved. However, Fodor and Lepore oppose Inferentialism by offering the compositionality objection. They argue that compositionality is needed to explain productivity, systematicity and learnability of (...) language, meaning is compositional. Since inferential role is not compositional, however, meaning is not an inferential role. Against Fodor and Lepore’s objection, I present Brandom’s responses and develop my own views. (shrink)
Semantic Compositionality is the principle that the meaning of a syntactically complex expression is a function only of the meanings of its syntactic components together with their syntactic mode of combination Various scholars have argued against this Principle in cluding the present author in earlier works One of these arguments was the Argument from Ambiguity which will be of concern in the present article Opposed to the considerations raised against the Principle are certain formal arguments that purport to show (...) that there is no empirical content to the Principle One of these formal ar guments makes use of the notion of free algebras The present article investigates the relationship between these two types of argument.. (shrink)
I believe that the validity of [the Fregean principle of compositionality] is beyond doubt and thus any grammar, whether organized to reflect [it] directly or not, may ultimately be required to satisfy it. One of the systems that are precisely designed to reflect [it] is Montague Grammar, where, technical details aside, it is realized as follows: (2) a. Sentences are composed by putting their constituents together step by step, with no subsequent rearrangement; b. Not only each lexical item but (...) also each rule of composition is assigned an explicit interpretation; c. Interpretation is given in terms of model theory: the denotation conditions of expressions are defined relative to a mathematical construct which, loosely speaking, models the relevant aspects of the world talked about. (shrink)
In this article, we evaluate the Compositionality Argument for structured propositions. This argument hinges on two seemingly innocuous and widely accepted premises: the Principle of Semantic Compositionality and Propositionalism (the thesis that sentential semantic values are propositions). We show that the Compositionality Argument presupposes that compositionality involves a form of building, and that this metaphysically robust account of compositionality is subject to counter-example: there are compositional representational systems that this principle cannot accommodate. If this is (...) correct, one of the most important arguments for structured propositions is undermined. (shrink)
This paper argues against Zoltán Szabó’s claim in “Compositionality as Supervenience” that we ought to understand the principle of compositionality as the idea that in natural language, the meanings of complex expressions strongly supervene on the meanings of their constituents and how the constituents are combined. The argument is that if we understand compositionality Szabó’s way, then compositionality can play no role in explanations of the acquirability of natural languages, because it makes these explanations circular. This, (...) in turn, would undermine the primary motivation for thinking that natural language is compositional, and would thus undermine the importance of the principle in natural language semantics. Thus, even if Szabó’s reading of the principle best accords with theorists’ intuitions about what sorts of languages are compositional—as he claims it does—there is good reason to reject that reading. Finally, the paper defends the claim that we ought to think of the principle as the idea that in natural language, the meanings of complexes weakly supervene on the meanings of their constituents and how they are combined. (shrink)
It is a common view that radical contextualism about linguistic meaning is incompatible with a compositional explanation of linguistic comprehension. Recently, some philosophers of language have proposed theories of 'pragmatic' compositionality challenging this assumption. This paper takes a close look at a prominent proposal of this kind due to François Recanati. The objective is to give a plausible formulation of the view. The major results are threefold. First, a basic distinction that contextualists make between mandatory and optional pragmatic processes (...) needs to be revised. Second, the pragmatic theory can withstand a Davidsonian objection only by rejecting the importance of a distinction between primitive and non-primitive semantic items. Thirdly, however, the theory is now open to a worry about how it should be understood: either the theory consists in a very broad functionalist generalization about communication, which makes it explanatorily inert, or it boils down to a highly particularist view about linguistic meaning. Finally, I argue that Recanati's notion of 'occasion meaning' is problematic and suggest replacing it with the notion of speaker meaning, which is explanatorily more basic. (shrink)
In an insightful and provocative paper, Jessica Rett (2006) claims that attempts to locate the (non-indexical, non-demonstrative) semantic contributions of context in syntax run into problems respecting compositionality. This is an especially biting problem for hidden indexical theorists such as Stanley (2000, 2002) who deploy hidden variables to provide a compositional theory of semantic interpretation. Fortunately for the hidden indexical theorists, her attack fails, albeit in interesting and subtle ways. The following paper is divided into four sections. Section I (...) presents a skeletal version of Rett’s argument. Those already familiar with Rett (2006) can skip ahead without shame. Section II offers a .. (shrink)
Compositionality is the idea that the meanings of complex expressions (or concepts) are constructed from the meanings of the less complex expressions (or concepts) that are their constituents.1 Over the last few years, we have just about convinced ourselves that compositionality is the sovereign test for theories of lexical meaning.2 So hard is this test to pass, we think, that it filters out practically all of the theories of lexical meaning that are current in either philosophy or cognitive (...) science. Among the casualties are, for example, the theory that lexical meanings are statistical structures (like stereotypes); the theory that the meaning of a word is its use; the theory that knowing the meaning of (at least some) words requires having a recognitional capacity for (at least some) of the things that it applies to; and the theory that knowing the meaning of a word requires knowing criteria for applying it. Indeed, we think that only two theories of the lexicon survive the compositionality constraint: viz., the theory that all lexical meanings are primitive and the theory that some lexical meanings are primitive and the rest are definitions. So compositionality does a lot of work in lexical semantics, according to our lights. (shrink)
A general feature of language that appears to resist systematic semantic analysis is context-sensitivity. Since the birth of analytic philosophy, philosophers have thought the context-dependence of natural language renders it unsuitable for analysis by the semantic tools of the logician. And metaphor appears to pose a particularly vexing problem in that, in addition to being difficult to systematize for other reasons, it is also context-dependent. However in recent years, the problem of context-dependency has moved to the foreground in the philosophy (...) of language. And some theorists have taken on the daunting challenge of accounting forour context-variant intuitions about what is said by systematic means. The central point of this paper then is to show that the resources these theorists use are far more powerful than the theorists realize. I argue that if these theorists are correct about context-sensitivity, the same resources they use to make context-sensitivity compatible with semantic systematicity can be used to yield a systematic semantic account of metaphor. The paper can be viewed as either a powerful consideration against adopting the resources of theorists who seek to explain all contextsensitivity semantically, or a powerful consideration against those whobelieve metaphor to be merely a matter of language use. (shrink)
Compositionality is a principle used in logic, philosophy, mathematics, linguistics, and computer science for assigning meanings to language expressions in a systematic manner following syntactic construction, thereby allowing for a perspicuous algebraic view of the syntax-semantics interface. Yet the status of the principle remains under debate, with positions ranging from compositionality always being achievable to its having genuine empirical content. This paper attempts to sort out some major issues in all this from a logical perspective. First, we stress (...) the fundamental harmony between Compositionality and its apparent antipode of Contextuality that locates meaning in interaction with other linguistic expressions and in other settings than the actual one. Next, we discuss basic further desiderata in designing and adjudicating a compositional semantics for a given language in harmony with relevant contextual syntactic and semantic cues. In particular, in a series of concrete examples in the realm of logic, we point out the dangers of over-interpreting compositional solutions, the ubiquitous entanglement of assigning meanings and the key task of explaining given target inferences, and the dynamics of new language design, illustrating how even established compositional semantics can be rethought in a fruitful manner. Finally, we discuss some fresh perspectives from the realm of game semantics for natural and formal languages, the general setting for Samson Abramsky’s influential work on programming languages and process logics. We highlight outside-in coalgebraic perspectives on meanings as finite or infinitely unfolding behavior that might challenge and enrich current discussions of compositionality. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
with the meaning function [[·]] appearing on both sides. (1) is commonly construed as a prescription for computing the meaning of a based on the parts of a and their mode of combination. As equality is symmetric, however, we can also read (1) from right to left, as a constraint on the meaning [[b]] of a term b that brings in the wider context where b may occur, in accordance with what Dag Westerst˚ahl has recently described as “one version of (...) Frege’s famous Context Principle”. (shrink)
This book argues that languages are composed of sets of ‘signs’, rather than ‘strings’. This notion, first posited by de Saussure in the early 20th century, has for decades been neglected by linguists, particularly following Chomsky’s heavy critiques of the 1950s. Yet since the emergence of formal semantics in the 1970s, the issue of compositionality has gained traction in the theoretical debate, becoming a selling point for linguistic theories. Yet the concept of ‘compositionality’ itself remains ill-defined, an issue (...) this book addresses. Positioning compositionality as a cornerstone in linguistic theory, it argues that, contrary to widely held beliefs, there exist non-compositional languages, which shows that the concept of compositionality has empirical content. The author asserts that the existence of syntactic structure can flow from the fact that a compositional grammar cannot be delivered without prior agreement on the syntactic structure of the constituents. (shrink)
Proponents of deflationism about meaning often claim that the principle of compositionality, when properly understood, places no constraint whatsoever on the nature of lexical meaning. This deflationary thesis admits of both strong and weak readings. On the strong reading, the principle does not rule out any theory of lexical meaning either alone or in conjunction with other independently plausible semantic assumptions. On the weak reading, the principle alone does not rule out any such theory. I argue that, though weak (...) deflationism about compositionality has better initial prospects than strong, neither version of the thesis is credible. In particular, weak deflationism cannot be maintained in conformity with the deflationist commitment to explaining facts about phrase meanings in compositional terms, that is, by appeal to facts about the lexicon. (shrink)
Is there a reason to believe that the evolution of language leads to compositional semantics? A proposal from Henry Brighton is presented and criticized. As an alternative, the role of compositionality for the complexity of semantic interpretation is emphasized.
This paper contains a discussion of how the concept of compositionality is to be extended from context invariant to context dependent meaning, and of how the compositionality of natural language might conflict with context dependence. Several new distinctions are needed, including a distinction between a weaker (e-) and a stronger (ec-) concept of compositionality for context dependent meaning. The relations between the various notions are investigated. A claim by Jerry Fodor that there is a general conflict between (...) context dependence and compositionality is considered. There is in fact a possible conflict betwee ec-compositionality and context dependence, but not of the kind Fodor suggests. It turns on the presence of so-called unarticulated constituents, in John Perry’s sense. Because of this phenomenon, on some semantic accounts there might be a variation in the meaning of a complex expression between contexts without any corresponding variation in any of the syntactic parts of that complex. The conflict can be resolved in several ways. One way is to make the unarticulated context dependence explicit only in the meta-language, which makes it into an unarticulated constituent account. A recent argument by Jason Stanley against such accounts is discussed. According to Stanley, certain readings of English sentences involving binding of contextual variables, are unavailable in these theories. After considering a reply to Stanley by François Recanati, I present an outline of a fully compositional theory, of the unarticulated constituent variety, which does deliver these readings. Concluding remarks on, inter alia, the semantics/pragmatics distinction. (shrink)
This article is concerned with the principle of compositionality, i.e. the principle that the meaning of a complex expression is a function of the meanings of its parts and its mode of composition. After a brief historical background, a formal algebraic framework for syntax and semantics is presented. In this framework, both syntactic operations and semantic functions are partial. Using 20 the framework, the basic idea of compositionality is given a precise statement, and several variants, both weaker and (...) stronger, as well as related properties, are distinguished. Several arguments for compositionality are discussed, and the standard arguments are found inconclusive. Also, several arguments against compositionality, and for the claim that it is a trivial property, are discussed, 25 and are found to be flawed. Finally, a number of real or apparent problems for compositionality are considered, and some solutions are proposed. (shrink)
A semantic theory is committed to semantic monism just in case every particular semantic property posited by the theory is a member of the same kind. The commitment to semantic monism appears to draw some support from the need to provide a compositional semantics, since taking a single kind of semantic property as key to a semantic theory affords a uniform pattern on the basis of which the meaning of any given sentence can be compositionally determined. This line of support (...) highlights a tension between the principle of compositionality and taking a more pluralistic approach to semantic theorizing. In this essay, that tension is relieved, leaving open the prospect of a pluralistic semantic theory that observes the principle of compositionality. (shrink)
Charles S. Peirce’s pragmatist theory of logic teaches us to take the context of utterances as an indispensable logical notion without which there is no meaning. This is not a spat against compositionality per se , since it is possible to posit extra arguments to the meaning function that composes complex meaning. However, that method would be inappropriate for a realistic notion of the meaning of assertions. To accomplish a realistic notion of meaning (as opposed e.g. to algebraic meaning), (...) Sperber and Wilson’s Relevance Theory (RT) may be applied in the spirit of Peirce’s Pragmatic Maxim (PM): the weighing of information depends on (i) the practical consequences of accommodating the chosen piece of information introduced in communication, and (ii) what will ensue in actually using that piece in further cycles of discourse. Peirce’s unpublished papers suggest a relevance-like approach to meaning. Contextual features influenced his logic of Existential Graphs (EG). Arguments are presented pro and con the view in which EGs endorse non-compositionality of meaning. (shrink)
I address the question whether Dummetts manifestation challenge to semantic realism can be disarmed by reflection on the compositionality of meaning. Building on work of Dummett and Wright, I develop in §§12 what I argue to be the most formidable version of the manifestation challenge. Along the way I review attempts by previous authors to deploy considerations about compositionality in realisms favour, and argue that they are unsuccessful. The formulation of the challenge I develop renders explicit something which (...) I argue to be implicit in Dummetts and Wrights presentations: that the challenge depends on a contention about the constitution of speakers states of declarative sentence understanding: i.e., that many such states incorporate abilities to recognize whether the associated sentences truth conditions are satisfied. In §3 I argue that reflection on the compositionality of meaning reveals, first, that this contention must be rejected by the realist, and second, that it is unmotivated. This result does not settle the debate over the manifestation challenge, but it implies that the onus of argument does not currently rest with the realist. (shrink)
The article presents a concept apparatus of identifying and eliminating non-compositionality on the basis of intended sense reconstruction. First, two types ofnon-compositionality are delineated: pragmatically adoptable and logical. Thenon-compositionality ofthe first type has its source in underspecification of the meaning of an expression components, which is connected with non-expressible context-pragmatic conditions ofthesituation of an expression. The variants ofsuch non-compositionality are various, nevertheless allof them can be adopted with logical and semantic means. Non-compositionality ofthe secondtype is (...) linked to the cyclic references which occur during the realisation ofthe procedure of defining the meaning. Sucha procedure is regarded as a semantic program which is capable of calculating the meaning of an expression with semantic and context-pragmatic parameters being given. The main question: howthe agents communication recognise thefactthatthe language expressions they generated are not adequate in regards of those mental representa- tionswhich constitute intended sense, particularly in the cases of non-compositionality. To answer this question the way of reconstructing intended sense is described. It includes differentiation of minimal and full senses of expression, and presupposes juxtaposing of context-pragmatic conditions of a speaker situation with the same conditions an addressee situation. If differences are uncovered which would make it impossible to achieve adequate understanding,then the parameters ofa speaker's situation are verbalised and stop beingnon-expressible turninginto obvious conditions ofthe stated. In the case of pragmatically adopted non-compositionality, full verbalisation of context-pragmatic conditions leads to obtaining full compositional meaning, which does not depend on a situation anymore. If it turns out, that logical compositionality depends on context-pragmatic conditions, then, depending on the aim of communication, it maybe localised and eliminated. (shrink)
Representational systems such as language, mind and perhaps even the brain exhibit a structure that is often assumed to be compositional. That is, the semantic value of a complex representation is determined by the semantic value of their parts and the way they are put together. Dating back to the late 19th century, the principle of compositionality has regained wide attention recently. Since the principle has been dealt with very differently across disciplines, the aim of the two volumes is (...) to bring together the diverging approaches. They assemble a collection of original papers that cover the topic of compositionality from virtually all perspectives of interest in the contemporary debate. The well-chosen international list of authors includes psychologists, neuroscientists, computer scientists, linguists, and philosophers. (shrink)