Linguistics and English Language

Meaning and grammar seminar

Speaker: Alexander Turtureanu (Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft)

Title: A cognitive approach to reference and negation – and how it finds support in Gaelic

Abstract: In truth-conditional semantics (TCS), the meanings of natural language expressions are treated as “abstract objects”, which are taken to be amenable to an analysis that is independent of the cognitive states of the human speakers “employing” them in specific utterances. For example, the logical statement taken to underlie the utterance (1) There was a cat made by a speaker Sp regarding a reference situation s is considered to “be true” iff s satisfies the truth conditions of the existential quantification ∃x[x is a cat in s] (independent of the correctness of Sp’s or any other speaker’s particular beliefs regarding s); this is the case iff at least one individual in s is a cat. At the same time, the indefinite a cat in (1) may be taken up anaphorically by Sp as referring to some specific individual in s (even if s contains more than one cat), such as in (2) There was a cat. It was black and cheeky. As this possibility of anaphoric uptake does not follow from the conventional TCS interpretation of (1) introduced above, its explanation seems to be left to some extra-semantic domain of analysis encompassing Sp’s referential intentions. However, one might wonder why a fundamental linguistic process such as the referential use of indefinites should fall outside the scope of core semantics.

In my talk, I will present a cognition-based framework of semantic analysis that gives rise to an approach to the semantics of indefinites which reconciles the possibility of their referential use with the valid arguments underlying their non-referential interpretation in TCS. I will speak about the implications of this approach for an account of the semantics of negation within the introduced semantic framework and explain why Gaelic is of particular interest with respect to its further development.


Seminars are organised by the meaning and grammar research group.

Meaning and grammar research group

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Nov 21 2023 -

Meaning and grammar seminar

2023-11-21: A cognitive approach to reference and negation – and how it finds support in Gaelic

Room G.02, 50 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LH