Leading linguists and philosophers report on all aspects of compositionality, the notion that the meaning of an expression can be derived from its parts. This book explores every dimension of this field, reporting critically on different lines of research, revealing connections between them, and highlighting current problems and opportunities.
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)
This paper defends the view that the Faculty of Language is compositional, i.e., that it computes the meaning of complex expressions from the meanings of their immediate constituents and their structure. I fargue that compositionality and other competing constraints on the way in which the Faculty of Language computes the meanings of complex expressions should be understood as hypotheses about innate constraints of the Faculty of Language. I then argue that, unlike compositionality, most of the currently available non-compositional (...) constraints predict incorrect patterns of early linguistic development. This supports the view that the Faculty of Language is com- positional. More generally, this paper presents a way of framing the compositionality debate (by focusing on its implications for language acquisition) that can lead to its even- tual resolution, so it will hopefully also interest theorists who disagree with its main conclusion. (shrink)
This paper presents a new solution to the problems for orthodox decision theory posed by the Pasadena game and its relatives. I argue that a key question raised by consideration of these gambles is whether evaluative compositionality (as I term it) is a requirement of rationality: is the value that an ideally rational agent places on a gamble determined by the values that she places on its possible outcomes, together with their mode of composition into the gamble (i.e. the (...) probabilities assigned to them)? The paper first outlines a certain simple response to the Pasadena game and identifies two problems with this response, the second of which is that it leads to a wholesale violation of evaluative compositionality. I then argue that rationality does not require decision makers to factor in outcomes of arbitrarily low probability. A method for making decisions which flows from this basic idea is then developed, and it is shown that this decision method (Truncation) leads to a limited — as opposed to wholesale — violation of evaluative compositionality. The paper then argues that the truncation method yields solutions to the problems posed by the Pasadena game and its relatives that are both attractive in themselves and superior to those yielded by alternative proposals in the literature. (shrink)
This paper offers both a theoretical and an experimental perspective on the relationship between connectionist and Classical (symbol-processing) models. Firstly, a serious flaw in Fodor and Pylyshyn’s argument against connectionism is pointed out: if, in fact, a part of their argument is valid, then it establishes a conclusion quite different from that which they intend, a conclusion which is demonstrably false. The source of this flaw is traced to an underestimation of the differences between localist and distributed representation. It has (...) been claimed that distributed representations cannot support systematic operations, or that if they can, then they will be mere implementations of traditional ideas. This paper presents experimental evidence against this conclusion: distributed representations can be used to support direct structure-sensitive operations, in a man- ner quite unlike the Classical approach. Finally, it is argued that even if Fodor and Pylyshyn’s argument that connectionist models of compositionality must be mere implementations were correct, then this would still not be a serious argument against connectionism as a theory of mind. (shrink)
Ordinary semantic compositionality (meaning of whole determined from meanings of parts plus composition) can serve to explain how a hearer manages to assign an appropriate meaning to a new sentence. But it does not serve to explain how the speaker manages to find an appropriate sentence for expressing a new thought. For this we would need a principle of inverse compositionality, by which the expression of a complex content is determined by the expressions of it parts and the (...) mode of composition. But this presupposes that contents have constituent structure, and this cannot be taken for granted. However, it can be proved that if a certain principle of substitutivity is valid for a particular language, then the meanings expressed by its sentences can justifiably be treated as structured. In its simplest form, this principle says that if in a complex expression a constituent is replaced by another constituent with a different meaning, the new complex has a meaning different from the original. This principle is again inversely related to the normal compositional principle of substitutivity. The combination of ordinary and inverse compositionality is here called 'strong compositionality'. The proof is carried out in the algebraic framework developed by Wilfrid Hodges and Dag Westerståhl. (shrink)
Starting from the familiar observation that no straightforward treatment of pure quotation can be compositional in the standard (homomorphism) sense, we introduce general compositionality, which can be described as compositionality that takes linguistic context into account. A formal notion of linguistic context type is developed, allowing the context type of a complex expression to be distinct from those of its constituents. We formulate natural conditions under which an ordinary meaning assignment can be non-trivially extended to one that is (...) sensitive to context types and satisfies general compositionality. As our main example we work out a Fregean treatment of pure quotation, but we also indicate that the method applies to other kinds of context, e.g. intensional contexts. (shrink)
Dual factor theories of meaning are fatally flawed in at least two ways. First. their very duality constitutes a problem: the two dimensions of meaning cannot be treated as totally orthogonal without compromising the intuition that much of our linguistic and non linguistic behavior is based on the cognizer’s interaction with the world. Second, Conceptual Role Semantics is not adequate for explaining a crucial feature of linguistic representation, viz., the special kind of compositionality known as concatenative compositionality. Dual (...) factor theories, I conclude, cannot constitute an acceptable philosophical model of content. (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)
There are two principles which bear the name Frege''sprinciple: the principle of compositionality, and the contextprinciple. The aim of this contribution is to investigate whether thisis justified: did Frege accept both principles at the same time, did hehold the one principle but not the other, or did he, at some moment,change his opinion? The conclusion is as follows. There is a developmentin Frege''s position. In the period of Grundlagen he followed to a strict form of contextuality. He repeatedcontextuality in (...) later writings, but became less strict. From 1914 on,pushed by the needs of research, he comes close to compositionality. Buthe could never make the final step toward compositionality forprincipled reasons, therefore he always would reject compositionality. (shrink)
Concepts are the constituents of thoughts. Therefore, concepts are vital to any theory of cognition. However, despite their widely accepted importance, there is little consensus about the nature and origin of concepts. Thanks to the work of Lawrence Barsalou, Jesse Prinz and others concept empiricism has been gaining momentum within the philosophy and psychology literature. Concept empiricism maintains that all concepts are copies, or combinations of copies, of perceptual representations—that is, all concepts are couched in the codes of perceptual representation (...) systems. It is widely agreed that any satisfactory theory of concepts must account for how concepts semantically compose (the compositionality requirement) and explain how their intentional content is determined (the content determination requirement). In this paper, I argue that concept empiricism has serious problems satisfying these two requirements. Therefore, although stored perceptual representations may facilitate some traditionally conceptual tasks, concepts should not be identified with copies of perceptual representations. (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)
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.
Compositionality is a key design feature of human language: the meaning of complex expressions is, for the most part, systematically constructed from the meanings of its parts and their manner of composition. This paper demonstrates that rudimentary forms of compositional communicative behavior can emerge from a variant of reinforcement learning applied to signaling games. This helps explain how compositionality could have emerged gradually: if unsophisticated agents can evolve prevalent dispositions to communicate compositional-like, there is a direct evolutionary benefit (...) for adaptations that exploit the systematicity in form-meaning mappings more rigorously. (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)
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)
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)
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 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)
This book is a critical discussion of the principle of compositionality, the thesis that the meaning of a complex expression is fully determined by the meanings of its constituents and its structure. The aim of this book is to clarify what is meant by this principle, to show that its traditional justification is insufficient, and to discuss some of the problems that have to be addressed before a new attempt can be made to justify it.
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)
It has been argued that philosophers that base their theories of meaning on communicative intentions and language conventions cannot accommodate the fact that natural languages are compositional. In this paper I show that if we pay careful attention to Grice's notion of “resultant procedures” we see that this is not the case. The argument, if we leave out all the technicalities, is fairly simple. Resultant procedures tell you how to combine utterance parts, like words, into larger units, like sentences. You (...) cannot have that unless you have R-correlations (reference) and D-correlations (denotation). These in turn, the argument goes, depend on communicative intentions, since without communicative intentions any attempt to R-correlate or D-correlate a word with an object or sets of objects would inevitably result in correlation-relations between that word and everything that exists. In other words, without communicative intentions in the equation it would turn out that every time we speak, we inevitably speak about everything, but clearly we do not. So communicative intentions, instead of being nebulous things that are in possible conflict with the Principle of Compositionality, are in fact a prerequisite for that very principle. (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)
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)
The standard argument against the compositionality of adjective-noun compounds containing "red" says that "red" does not make the same semantic contribution because a red car has to be red outside whereas a red watermelon has to be red inside. Fodor's reply to that argument is that the inside/outside feature is semantically irrelevant because "red F" just means F which is red for Fs. That account agrees with our intuitions concerning analyticity; but it seems to be in conflict with a (...) central test for understanding: a person who knows nothing else about these expressions than what is offered by Fodor is far from applying them successfully. (shrink)
It has been argued that prototypes cannot compose, and that for this reason concepts cannot be prototypes (Osherson and Smith in Cognition 9:35–58, 1981; Fodor and Lepore in Cognition 58:253–270, 1996; Connolly et al. in Cognition 103:1–22, 2007). In this paper I examine the intensional and extensional approaches to prototype compositionality, arguing that neither succeeds in their present formulations. I then propose a hybrid extensional theory of prototype compositionality, according to which the extension of a complex concept is (...) determined as a function of what triggers its constituent prototypes. I argue that the theory escapes the problems traditionally raised against extensional theories of compositionality. (shrink)
The paper examines an alleged distinction claimed to exist by Van Gelder between two different, but equally acceptable ways of accounting for the systematicity of cognitive output (two “varieties of compositionality”): “concatenative compositionality” vs. “functional compositionality.” The second is supposed to provide an explanation alternative to the Language of Thought Hypothesis. I contend that, if the definition of “concatenative compositionality” is taken in a different way from the official one given by Van Gelder (but one suggested (...) by some of his formulations) then there is indeed a different sort of compositionality; however, the second variety is not an alternative to the language of thought in that case. On the other hand, if the concept of concatenative compositionality is taken in a different way, along the lines of Van Gelder's explicit definition, then there is no reason to think that there is an alternative way of explaining systematicity. (shrink)
We consider two formalisations of the notion of a compositionalsemantics for a language, and find some equivalent statements in termsof substitutions. We prove a theorem stating necessary and sufficientconditions for the existence of a canonical compositional semanticsextending a given partial semantics, after discussing what features onewould want such an extension to have. The theorem involves someassumptions about semantical categories in the spirit of Husserl andTarski.
This paper defends the view that common nouns have a dual semantic structure that includes extension-determining and non-extension-determining components. I argue that the non-extension-determining components are part of linguistic meaning because they play a key compositional role in certain constructions, especially in privative noun phrases such as "fake gun" and "counterfeit document". Furthermore, I show that if we modify the compositional interpretation rules in certain simple ways, this dual content account of noun phrase modification can be implemented in a type-driven (...) formal semantic framework. In addition, I also argue against traditional accounts of privative noun phrases which can be paired with the assumption that nouns do not have a dual semantic structure. At the most general level, this paper presents a proposal for how we can begin to integrate a psychologically realistic account of lexical semantics with a linguistically plausible compositional semantic framework. (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.
Sophisticated senator and legislative onion. Whether or not you have ever heard of these things, we all have some intuition that one of them makes much less sense than the other. In this paper, we introduce a large dataset of human judgments about novel adjective-noun phrases. We use these data to test an approach to semantic deviance based on phrase representations derived with compositional distributional semantic methods, that is, methods that derive word meanings from contextual information, and approximate phrase meanings (...) by combining word meanings. We present several simple measures extracted from distributional representations of words and phrases, and we show that they have a significant impact on predicting the acceptability of novel adjective-noun phrases even when a number of alternative measures classically employed in studies of compound processing and bigram plausibility are taken into account. Our results show that the extent to which an attributive adjective alters the distributional representation of the noun is the most significant factor in modeling the distinction between acceptable and deviant phrases. Our study extends current applications of compositional distributional semantic methods to linguistically and cognitively interesting problems, and it offers a new, quantitatively precise approach to the challenge of predicting when humans will find novel linguistic expressions acceptable and when they will not. (shrink)
I show that the model-theoretic meaning that can be read off the natural deduction rules for disjunction fails to have certain desirable properties. I use this result to argue against a modest form of inferentialism which uses natural deduction rules to fix model-theoretic truth-conditions for logical connectives.
We introduce several senses of the principle ofcompositionality. We illustrate the difference between them with thehelp of some recent results obtained by Cameron and Hodges oncompositional semantics for languages of imperfect information.
The challenge for alethic pluralists to maintain a standard, truth-functional account of the logical operators has received some attention. In this paper, I consider a related but more fundamental challenge, to maintain a compositional account of the logical operators, which has received much less attention. I argue that, given natural assumptions, pluralists cannot answer this challenge.
Compositionality remains effective as an explanation of cases in which processing complexity increases due to syntactic factors only. It falls short of accounting for situations in which complexity arises from interactions with the sentence or discourse context, perceptual cues, and stored knowledge. The idea of compositionality as a methodological principle is appealing, but imputing the complexity to one component of the grammar or another, instead of enriching the notion of composition, is not always an innocuous move, leading to (...) fully equivalent theories. Compositionality sets an upper bound on the degree of informational encapsulation that can be posited by modular or component-based theories of language: simple composition ties in with a strongly modular take on meaning assembly, which is seen as sealed off from information streams other than the lexicon and the syntax. (shrink)
The paper draws attention to an important, but apparently neglected distinction relating to axiomatic theories of truth, viz. the distinction between weakly and strongly truth-compositional theories of truth. The paper argues that the distinction might be helpful in classifying weak axiomatic theories of truth and examines some of them with respect to it.
This is the first part of a two-part article on semantic compositionality, that is, the principle that the meaning of a complex expression is determined by the meanings of its parts and the way they are put together. Here we provide a brief historical background, a formal framework for syntax and semantics, precise definitions, and a survey of variants of compositionality. Stronger and weaker forms are distinguished, as well as generalized forms that cover extra-linguistic context dependence as well (...) as linguistic context dependence. In the second article, we survey arguments for and arguments against the claim that natural languages are compositional, and consider some problem cases. It will be referred to as Part II. (shrink)
The problem of concept representation is relevant for many sub-fields of cognitive research, including psychology and philosophy, as well as artificial intelligence. In particular, in recent years it has received a great deal of attention within the field of knowledge representation, due to its relevance for both knowledge engineering as well as ontology-based technologies. However, the notion of a concept itself turns out to be highly disputed and problematic. In our opinion, one of the causes of this state of affairs (...) is that the notion of a concept is, to some extent, heterogeneous, and encompasses different cognitive phenomena. This results in a strain between conflicting requirements, such as compositionality, on the one hand and the need to represent prototypical information on the other. In some ways artificial intelligence research shows traces of this situation. In this paper, we propose an analysis of this current state of affairs. Since it is our opinion that a mature methodology with which to approach knowledge representation and knowledge engineering should also take advantage of the empirical results of cognitive psychology concerning human abilities, we outline some proposals for concept representation in formal ontologies, which take into account suggestions from psychological research. Our basic assumption is that knowledge representation systems whose design takes into account evidence from experimental psychology may therefore give better results in many applications. (shrink)
This is the second part of a two-part article on compositionality, i.e. the principle that the meaning of a complex expression is determined by the meanings of its parts and the way they are put together. In the first, Pagin and Westerståhl (2010), we provide a general historical background, a formal framework, definitions, and a survey of variants of compositionality. It will be referred to as Part I. Here we discuss arguments for and against the claim that natural (...) languages have a compositional semantics. We also discuss some problem cases, including belief reports, quotation, idioms, and ambiguity. (shrink)
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)
There are good reasons to think natural languages are compositional. But compound nominals (CNs) are largely productive constructions that have proven highly recalcitrant to compositional semantic analysis. I evaluate existing proposals to treat CNs compositionally and argue that they are unsuccessful. I then articulate an alternative proposal according to which CNs contain covert indexicals. Features of the context allow a variety of relations to be expressed using CNs, but this variety is not expressed in the lexicon or the semantic rules (...) of the language. This proposal accounts for the diversity of contents CNs can be used to express while preserving compositionality. Finally, I defend this proposal against some recent anti-contextualist arguments. (shrink)
In The Logical Basis of Metaphysics, Dummett argues at length that Geach has been wrong in taking the sense of a predicate to be a function that sends the sense of a proper name to that of a sentence, and claims that it should instead be a means to determine the referent of the predicate, as is suggested by Frege’s sense-determines-reference (SDR) principle. This disagreement between Dummett and Geach calls for a serious investigation into two of Frege’s sense-related principles, namely (...) the Compositionality thesis and the SDR thesis. By making precise both theses in terms of supervenience, we pin down a preferable sense of compositionality for senses, and resolve the debate in question. (shrink)
The goal of this paper is to investigate a case in which certain features have been argued to sometimes play a role in the interpretation of an expression and sometimes not—in particular, the case of gender and person features on pronouns.1 That these are in certain configurations only agreement features which have no semantic content has been explored in numerous places; for an especially detailed study, see Kratzer (1998, 2008); see also Heim (2008), von Stechow (2003) and others. I argue (...) here that the view that these are ‘uninterpretable’ is incorrect; they do in fact play the normal role in the semantic composition and their appearance of uninterpretability comes from the particular role they play in the interpretation of focus.2 In a nutshell, the proposal is that these features make no contribution to the focus value of an expression (i.e., they play no role in the computation of a set of alternatives in the sense of Rooth 1984), but they are always fully interpreted in the regular semantic value of an expression. The ‘punchline’ of this paper centres on the interaction of these features with paycheck pronouns—I will show that this interaction provides striking confirmation for the proposal here and presents a serious challenge to the agreement solution. But before turning to the details of the analysis and the paycheck evidence, let me step back to discuss just what is at stake in broader terms. The agreement hypothesis maintains that in certain cases these features play the expected role in the interpretation while in other cases they are only agreement features and play no role in the semantic computation. As will be documented below, this view—if correct—would pose a very real threat to the hypothesis of direct compositionality. Thus, the case of features on pronouns is not just a small and isolated piece of grammatical investigation, but one with quite striking implications for the organization of the grammar. (shrink)
In the context of debates about what form a theory of meaning should take, it is sometimes claimed that one cannot understand an intersective modifier-head construction (e.g., ‘pet fish’) without understanding its lexical parts. Neo-Russellians like Fodor and Lepore contend that non-denotationalist theories of meaning, such as prototype theory and theory theory, cannot explain why this is so, because they cannot provide for the ‘reverse compositional’ character of meaning. I argue that reverse compositionality is a red herring in these (...) debates. I begin by setting out some positive arguments for reverse compositionality and showing that they fail. Then I show that the principle of reverse compositionality has two big strikes against it. First, it is incompatible with all theories of meaning on the market, including the denotationalism favored by neo-Russellians. Second, it explains nothing that is not already explained by its venerable predecessor, the principle of (forward) compositionality. (shrink)
Some utterances of sentences such as ‘Every student failed the midterm exam’ and ‘There is no beer’ are widely held to be true in a conversation despite the facts that not every student in the world failed the midterm exam and that there is, in fact, some beer somewhere. For instance, the speaker might be talking about some particular course, or about his refrigerator. Stanley and Szabó (in Mind and Language v. 15, 2000) consider many different approaches to how contextual (...) information might give meaning to these ‘restricted quantifier domains’, and find all of them but one wanting. The present paper argues that their considerations against one of these other theories, considerations that turn on notions of compositionality, are incorrect. (shrink)