The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Colloquium 10/25 - Barbara Partee

Speaker: Barbara Partee (UMass Amherst)
Date/Time: Friday October 25th, 3:30-5pm
Location: 32-141
Title: The Starring Role of Quantifiers in the History of Formal Semantics

The history of formal semantics is a history of evolving ideas about logical form, linguistic form, and the nature of semantics. This talk emphasizes parts of the history of semantics where quantifiers played a major role, including the “Linguistic Wars” of the late 1960’s and the conflicts in the philosophy of language between the Ordinary Language philosophers and the Formal Language philosophers. Both conflicts resulted in part from the mismatch between first-order logic and natural language syntax. Both were resolved in part once Montague applied his higher-order typed intensional logic to the analysis of natural language, as illustrated most vividly by the treatment of noun phrases as generalized quantifiers. In subsequent developments, generalized quantifier theory led to the first substantive ideas in formal semantics about semantic universals (Barwise and Cooper, Keenan), and the failure of Barwise and Cooper’s universal provoked some of the earliest work in formal semantic typology. Quantifiers have also been central in debates about dynamic approaches to semantics, and about the nature of anaphora.

Reference: Partee, Barbara H. In Press. The starring role of quantifiers in the history of formal semantics. In The Logica Yearbook 2012, eds. Vit Punčochár and Petr Svarny. London: College Publications.