The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

2nd Annual Linguistics-Philosophy Joint Colloquium 2/26 - Zoltán Gendler Szabó

Speaker: Zoltán Gendler Szabó (Yale)
Time: Talk: 3:30-4:30; Q&A: 4:30-5:30
Place: 32-141
Title: Semantic Categories

A good deal of contemporary semantics for natural language is based on a simple type-theory inspired by Frege’s ideas. This type-theory categorizes all linguist expressions on the basis of the kind of semantic value they have: it tells us that the semantic value of proper name is an object, the semantic value of a declarative sentence is a truth-value, the semantic value of a common noun is a function from objects to truth-values, and so on. Doing semantics this way has two main drawbacks: it commits us to a semantic categorization that seems gerrymandered both from the point of view of syntax and the point of view of ontology, and it imposes severe expressive limitations on the languages we can interpret. The drawbacks are the result of two fundamental assumptions: that every linguistic expression has exactly one semantic value and that there is exactly one semantic relation linking linguistic expressions and semantic values. I will argue that abandoning these assumptions is a good idea.