This paper argues that truth values of sentences containing predicates of “personal taste” such as fun or tasty must be relativized to individuals. This relativization is of truth value only, and does not involve a relativization of semantic content: If you say roller coasters are fun, and I say they are not, I am negating the same content which you assert, and directly contradicting you. Nonetheless, both our utterances can be true (relative to their separate contexts). A formal semantic theory (...) is presented which gives this result by introducing an individual index, analogous to the world and time indices commonly used, and by treating the pragmatic context as supplying a particular value for this index. The context supplies this value in the derivation of truth values from content, not in the derivation of content from character. Predicates of personal taste therefore display a kind of contextual variation in interpretation which is unlike the familiar variation exhibited by pronouns and other indexicals. (shrink)
This book explores linguistic and philosophical issues presented by sentences expressing personal taste, such as Roller coasters are fun, or Licorice is tasty. Standard semantic theories explain the meanings of sentences by specifying the conditions under which they are true; here, Peter Lasersohn asks how we can account for sentences that are concerned with matters of opinion rather than matters of fact. He argues that a truth-theoretic semantic theory is appropriate even for sentences like these, but that for such sentences, (...) truth and falsity must be assigned relative to perspectives, rather than absolutely. The book provides a detailed and explicit formal grammar, working out the implications of this conception of truth both for simple sentences and for reports of mental attitude. The semantic analysis is paired with a pragmatic theory explaining what it means to assert a sentence which is true or false only relativistically, and with a speculative account of the functional motivation for a relativized notion of truth. (shrink)
Plurality, Conjunction and Events presents a novel theory of plural and conjoined phrases, in an event-based semantic framework. It begins by reviewing options for treating the alternation between `collective' and `distributive' readings of sentences containing plural or conjoined noun phrases, including analyses from both the modern and the premodern literature. It is argued that plural and conjoined noun phrases are unambiguously group-denoting, and that the collective/distributive distinction therefore must be located in the predicates with which these noun phrases combine. More (...) specifically, predicates must have a hidden argument place for events; the collective/distributive distinction may then be represented in the part/whole structure of these events. This allows a natural treatment of `collectivizing' adverbial expressions, and of `pluractional' affixes; it also allows a unified semantics for conjunction, in which conjoined sentences and predicates denote groups of events, much like conjoined noun phrases denote groups of individuals. (shrink)
It is a truism that people speak ‘loosely’——that is, that they often say things that we can recognize not to be true, but which come close enough to the truth for practical purposes. Certain expressions. such as those including ‘exactly’, ‘all’ and ‘perfectly’, appear to serve as signals of the intended degree of approximation to the truth. This article presents a novel formalism for representing the notion of approximation to the truth, and analyzes the meanings of these expressions in terms (...) of this formalism. Pragmatic loosencss of this kind should be distinguished from authentic truth-conditional vagueness. (shrink)
Recent arguments for relativist semantic theories have centered on the phenomenon of “faultless disagreement.” This paper offers independent motivation for such theories, based on the interpretation of predicates of personal taste in certain attitude contexts and presuppositional constructions. It is argued that the correct interpretation falls out naturally from a relativist theory, but requires special stipulation in a theory which appeals instead to the use of hidden indexicals; and that a hidden indexical analysis presents problems for contemporary syntactic theory.
This dissertation provides a model-theoretic semantics for English sentences atttributing a property or action to a group of objects, either collectively or distributively. It is shown that certain adverbial expressions select for collective predicates; therefore collective and distibutive predicates must be distinguishable. This finding is problematic for recent accounts of distributive predicates which analyze such predicates as taking group-level arguments, and hence as not distinguishable from collective predicates. ;A group-level treatment of distributives is possible, however, if predicate denotations are relativized (...) to a set of events for which a part/whole relation is defined. An event in which a group performs an action distributively will have subevents in which each of the group's members perform the same action; an event in which the group performs the action collectively will not. ;This analysis also makes possible an account of the fact that adverbials expressing collective action commonly have an additional use expressing spatial proximity, both in English and cross-linguistically. . A spatial "trace" function on the set of events allows formal definitions for the spatial uses of such adverbials to exactly parallel the definitions for the collectivizing uses. ;The dissertation also provides arguments for a set-theoretic model for plurality, in which the group membership relation is distinct from the subgroup relation. ;Certain quantifiers are shown sensitive to distinction between different sorts of group-level event. To accommodate this fact, it is suggested that verbal denotations provide, for each event, both an "inclusion set" and an "exclusion set"--corresponding roughly to positive and negative denotations. If the inclusion and exclusion sets are allowed under certain circumstances not to complement each other, correct results obtain. ;The splitting of verbal denotations into inclusion and exclusion sets also allows the solution of certain problems in previous accounts of the semantics of subject-verb agreement for number. The dissertation closes with a defense of the hypothesis that agreement is conditioned primarily by the semantics. (shrink)
I argue that compositionality (in the sense of homomorphic interpretation) is compatible with radical and pervasive contextual effects on interpretation. Apparent problems with this claim lose their force if we are careful in distinguishing the question of how a grammar assigns interpretations from the question of how people figure out which interpretations the grammar assigns. I demonstrate, using a simple example, that this latter task must sometimes be done not by computing a derivation defined directly by the grammar, but through (...) the use of pragmatic background knowledge and extragrammatical reasoning, even when the grammar is designed to be fully compositional. The fact that people must sometimes use global pragmatic mechanisms to identify truth conditions therefore tells us nothing about whether the grammar assigns truth conditions compositionally. Compositional interpretation (or the lack thereof) is identifiable not by the mechanisms necessary to calculating truth conditions, but by the structural relation between the interpretation of a phrase in context and the interpretations of its parts in that same context. Even if this relation varies by context, an invariant grammar is possible if grammars can “invoke” pragmatic concepts; but this does not imply that grammatical theory must explain these concepts or incorporate a theory of pragmatics. (shrink)
I argue that sentence contents should be assigned truth-values relative to parameters other than a possible world only if those parameters are fixed by the context of assessment rather than the context of use. Standard counterexamples, including tense, de se attitudes, and knowledge ascriptions, all admit of alternative analyses which do not make use of such parameters. Moreover, allowing such indices greatly complicates the task of defining disagreement, and forces an odd separation between what is true, and what someone has (...) truthfully said. If non-world indices are always fixed by the context of assessment, a characterization of semantic theories as ?relativist? in terms of assessment-sensitivity converges with a characterization in terms of sensitivity to non-world indices. More tentatively, I suggest that even a possible world index, when used in the assignment of truth-values to sentence contents, should be fixed by the context of assessment, not the context of use. This eliminates MacFarlane's category of ?non-indexical contextualism?, and results in a system in which parameters fixed by the context of use are used only in the assignment of contents to linguistic expressions, and parameters used in the assignment of truth-values to contents are uniformly fixed by the context of assessment. (shrink)
I argue that common nouns should be analyzed as variables, rather than as predicates which take variables as arguments. This necessitates several unusual features to the analysis, such as allowing variables to be modally non-rigid, and assigning their values compositionally. However, treating common nouns as variables offers a variety of theoretical and empirical advantages over a more traditional analysis: It predicts the conservativity of nominal quantification, simplifies the analysis of articleless languages, derives the weak reading of sentences with donkey anaphora, (...) solves the proportion problem presented by quantifiers like ‘most’, improves the analysis of the temperature paradox, allows a more unified analysis of bare plurals, and regularizes the correspondence between syntactic categories and semantic types. (shrink)
I compare Potts’ use of a ‘‘judge’’ parameter in semantic interpretation with the use of a similar parameter in Lasersohn (2005). The latter technique portrays the content of expressives as constant across speakers, while Pott’s technique does not. The idea that the content of expressives is a kind of presupposition is also brieﬂy defended, and a technical problem in the ‘‘dynamics’’ of Pott’s formalism is pointed out.
Common nouns and noun phrases have usually been analyzed semantically as predicates. In quantified sentences, these predicates take variables as arguments. This paper develops and defends an analysis in which common nouns and noun phrases themselves are treated as variables, rather than as predicates taking variables as arguments. Several apparent challenges for this view will be addressed, including the modal non-rigidity of common nouns. Two major advantages to treating common nouns as variables will be presented: Such an analysis predicts that (...) all nominal quantification is conservative, rather than requiring conservativity to be stipulated as a constraint on determiner denotations; and it makes possible some improvements to the analysis of the temperature paradox, allowing for quantificational examples without adding a spurious layer of modal variability. (shrink)
What is the relation between models, as used in model-theoretic semantics, and the “world” which models represent? More specifically, let us consider the question of whether a single individual, event, time or other element in a model might be used to represent more than one individual, event, time or other object in the real world.
Generically interpreted bare plural noun phrases license donkey anaphora. This fact has unexpected consequences both for the analysis of generics and for the analysis of donkey anaphors. Specifically, if we assume a kindsbased analysis of bare plurals as in Carlson (1980), we will be forced to give up the idea that donkey anaphors are variables – presumably in favor of an E-type analysis. Conversely, if we assume that donkey anaphors are variables, we will be forced to give up Carlson’s treatment (...) of generically interpreted bare plurals as denoting kinds – presumably in favor of an analysis employing a generic operator like that of Wilkinson (1991), which quantifies over objects directly, without the mediation of kinds. The two issues are thus dependent on one another, and cannot be decided independently. This paper will not attempt to choose between an E-type and a variable-based analysis of donkey anaphors, or between a kinds-based and a kinds-free analysis of generic bare plurals, but only to point out that the choice one makes with regard to either one of these issues appears to force a particular choice with respect to the other issue. (shrink)
Argues that certain conditional clauses are irreducibly adnominal, so that 'if' cannot be treated purely as a sentential connective. A unified analysis of adnominal if-clauses and ordinary if-clauses is possible, however, if we assume a semantic theory in which sentences denote sets of events rather than truth values.