The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Comp-Lang 11/1 - Keny Chatain

This week’s Comp-Lang meeting features our very own Keny Chatain! everyone is welcome to join. Pizza will be served.

Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)
Title: Is logic useful in the study of meaning? Pronouns can tell
Date and time: Thursday, 11/1, 5-6pm
Location: 46-5165

Pronouns, like heshe, or it, are among the items with highest frequency in English and other languages that use overt pronouns. Within the same language, they have a variety of uses that do not form an obvious natural class. They can for instance be used to refer to a previously mentioned name (the anaphoric use), but also as variables in quantified statements (the bound use, e.g. ‘every athlete thinks he will win’). More intriguingly, it seems, in broad strokes, that no language distinguishes these uses by employing different forms, suggesting an underlying connection between them.

In this talk, I will show how this connection has been used to shed light on the system that underlies meaning. I will start off by showing that standard predicate logic provides a remarkably adequate understanding of the behavior of pronouns. I will then present the famous case of so-called donkey sentences that translations to predicate logic seem unable to capture. These cases are taken to argue in favor of new take on the meaning of sentences, called Dynamic Semantics ; the meaning of sentences, it is claimed, is more appropriately understood as the effect that sentences have on the context. I will show how this approach can capture donkey sentences, and other pronoun-related phenomena. Time allowing, I will discuss alternatives.