Linguistics and English Language

Linguistic Circle

Speaker: Gillian Ramchand (University of Tromsø)

Title: Reconciling Internalist and Externalist Views of Linguistic Meaning

Abstract: I argue in this talk that classical truth conditional semantics (i.e. the tradition starting with Frege and progressing through Tarski and Church to Montague, Lewis, and later modern formal semantics), despite its undoubted achievements, has failed to deliver on three important desiderata for a theory of meaning for actual human languages.

  1. providing an explicit account of productive concept composition and polysemy of actual lexical items.
  2. underwriting generalizations concerning meaning layering within morphosyntax that are virtually exceptionless typologically.
  3. providing a theory can be the computational stepping stone into a more algorithmic psychologically real account of meaning in the brain.

Failure on (3) becomes urgent in the light of current advances in psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic, where having a semantic theory that might actually make predictions about brain behaviour is vitally important.

Within philosophy, Pietroski (2018) and Fine (2014) have all attacked the particular view of extensionalism that the current frameworks endorse, arguing strenuously and persuasively that the Lewisian position is neither necessary nor inevitable in setting up a theory of meaning, even one that is ultimately related to truthmaking. My own talk will be a contribution to this new wave, arguing specifically from (2) above in the verbal domain, for a new kind of compositional theory of meanings involving the reification of the linguistic symbol and the speech event itself. My proposed 'quotational' semantics (draws on ideas from Kathryn Davidson, Robert Henderson and Chris Potts) will have the consequence of providing a new view on lexical meanings, more consistent with a psychologically plausible internalist position. In doing so, it will also underwrite the meaning layering found in human language, and integrate indexical (kaplanian context information) earlier on in the compositional process. I will show how this quotational semantics rethink allows for a more direct handling of metaphor and polysemy, as well as a more systematic integration of demonstrative content with standard description (co-speech gestures, and iconicity more generally), while still maintaining the externalist results of the classical toolbox.

Contact details

Dr Chris Cummins

Nov 22 2018 -

Linguistic Circle

2018-11-22: Reconciling Internalist and Externalist Views of Linguistic Meaning

Lecture Theatre F21, Psychology Building, 7 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ