If you've taken a semantics course in the past decade or two, or read an introductory textbook on the topic published in that time span, you probably encountered, likely at the outset, the question What is meaning? followed almost immediately with a fairly pat answer. In my experience, the answer given to that question was reference1---the meaning of an expression, say dog, is the set of things in the world that that expression refers to, the set of all dogs in this case.
(This is intended to be the first in a series of posts in which I work my way through Semantic Theory by Jerrold Katz) Through a somewhat meandering intellectual journey that I undertook when I probably should have been writing, I found myself reading the late Jerrold J Katz's 1972 book entitled Semantic Theory. While … Continue reading Katz’s Semantic Theory (Part I)
(Note: Unlike my previous posts, this one is not aimed at a general audience. this one’s for linguists) As a generative linguist, I like to think of myself as a scientist. Certainly, my field is not as mature and developed as physics, chemistry, and biology, but my fellow linguists and I approach language and its … Continue reading Instrumentalism in Linguistics
Over at Psychology Today, Vyv Evans, cognitive linguist and UG critic, has written a piece criticizing generative linguistics, and those who defend its practice. In particular he criticizes what he sees as the shape-shifting nature of UG. I don’t want to address the substance of Evans’ piece, but rather a rhetorical choice he makes, specifically, … Continue reading Tarring Universal Grammar with the Brexit brush
As I write this I am sitting in the Linguistics Department lounge at the University of Toronto. Grad students and Post-doctoral researchers are working, chatting, making coffee. Faculty members pop in every now and then, taking breaks from their work. It’s a vibrant department, full of researchers with varied skills and interests. There are those … Continue reading Don’t believe the rumours. Universal Grammar is alive and well.
One of Chomsky's more controversial claims regarding language is that it is not a communication system, rather that it evolved as a system of thought which was then externalized and used for communication. It's perfectly understandable why this would be controversial, as it seems false on its face. We use language all the time to … Continue reading A test of the language vs communication contrast
In The Language Myth Vyvyan Evans presents the proposal that human language is a species of communication technology like writing systems, telephones, or computer networks. Just as we have no innate capacity for reading/writing, dialling phones, or clicking on links, we have no innate capacity for language. Instead, we humans were endowed with increased general … Continue reading A tiny note on language as communication technology
It is very much in vogue today to assume that features in the lexicon can freely vary along two dimensions: interpretability and value (Pesetsky and Torrego 2007). This gives us four possible forms of syntactic features shown below.(1) The typology of Formal Features Interpretable?YNValued?YiF:valuF:valNiF:__uF:__This is in contrast to a more traditional view, that of Chomsky, … Continue reading A note on expanded feature typologies