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Article

Nominal Reference  

Donka Farkas

Nominal reference is central to both linguistic semantics and philosophy of language. On the theoretical side, both philosophers and linguists wrestle with the problem of how the link between nominal expressions and their referents is to be characterized, and what formal tools are most appropriate to deal with this issue. The problem is complex because nominal expression come in a large variety of forms, from simple proper names, pronouns, or bare nouns (Jennifer, they, books) to complex expressions involving determiners and various quantifiers (the/every/no/their answer). While the reference of such expressions is varied, their basic syntactic distribution as subjects or objects of various types, for instance, is homogeneous. Important advances in understanding this tension were made with the advent of the work of R. Montague and that of his successors. The problems involved in understanding the relationship between pronouns and their antecedents in discourse have led to another fundamental theoretical development, namely that of dynamic semantics. On the empirical side, issues at the center of both linguistic and philosophical investigations concern how to best characterize the difference between definite and indefinite nominals, and, more generally, how to understand the large variety of determiner types found both within a language and cross-linguistically. These considerations led to refining the definite/indefinite contrast to include fine-grained specificity distinctions that have been shown to be relevant to various morphosyntactic phenomena across the world’s languages. Considerations concerning nominal reference are thus relevant not only to semantics but also to morphology and syntax. Some questions within the domain of nominal reference have grown into rich subfields of inquiry. This is the case with generic reference, the study of pronominal reference, the study of quantifiers, and the study of the semantics of nominal number marking.

Article

Type Theory for Natural Language Semantics  

Stergios Chatzikyriakidis and Robin Cooper

Type theory is a regime for classifying objects (including events) into categories called types. It was originally designed in order to overcome problems relating to the foundations of mathematics relating to Russell’s paradox. It has made an immense contribution to the study of logic and computer science and has also played a central role in formal semantics for natural languages since the initial work of Richard Montague building on the typed λ-calculus. More recently, type theories following in the tradition created by Per Martin-Löf have presented an important alternative to Montague’s type theory for semantic analysis. These more modern type theories yield a rich collection of types which take on a role of representing semantic content rather than simply structuring the universe in order to avoid paradoxes.

Article

Noun-Modifying Clause Construction in Japanese  

Yoshiko Matsumoto

The noun-modifying clause construction (NMCC) in Japanese is a complex noun phrase in which a prenominal clause is dependent on the head noun. Naturally occurring instances of the construction demonstrate that a single structure, schematized as [[… predicate (finite/adnominal)] Noun], represents a wide range of semantic relations between the head noun and the dependent clause, encompassing some that would be expressed by structurally distinct constructions such as relative clauses, noun complement clauses, and other types of complex noun phrases in other languages, such as English. In that way, the Japanese NMCC demonstrates a clear case of the general noun-modifying construction (GNMCC), that is, an NMCC that has structural uniformity across interpretations that extend beyond the range of relative clauses. One of the notable properties of the Japanese NMCC is that the modifying clause may consist only of the predicate, reflecting the fact that referential density is moderate in Japanese—arguments of a predicate are not required to be overtly expressed either in the main clause or in the modifying clause. Another property of the Japanese NMCC is that there is no explicit marking in the construction that indicates the grammatical or semantic relation between the head noun and the modifying clause. The two major constituents are simply juxtaposed to each other. Successful construal of the intended interpretations of instances of such a construction, in the absence of explicit markings, likely relies on an aggregate of structural, semantic, and pragmatic factors, including the semantic content of the linguistic elements, verb valence information, and the interpreter’s real-world knowledge, in addition to the basic structural information. Researchers with different theoretical approaches have studied Japanese NMCCs or subsets thereof. Syntactic approaches, inspired by generative grammar, have focused mostly on relative clauses and aimed to identify universally recognized syntactic principles. Studies that take the descriptive approach have focused on detailed descriptions and the classification of a wide spectrum of naturally occurring instances of the construction in Japanese. The third and most recent group of studies has emphasized the importance of semantics and pragmatics in accounting for a wide variety of naturally occurring instances. The examination of Japanese NMCCs provides information about the nature of clausal noun modification and affords insights into languages beyond Japanese, as similar phenomena have reportedly been observed crosslinguistically to varying degrees.

Article

Polarity in the Semantics of Natural Language  

Anastasia Giannakidou

This paper provides an overview of polarity phenomena in human languages. There are three prominent paradigms of polarity items: negative polarity items (NPIs), positive polarity items (PPIs), and free choice items (FCIs). What they all have in common is that they have limited distribution: they cannot occur just anywhere, but only inside the scope of licenser, which is negation and more broadly a nonveridical licenser, PPIs, conversely, must appear outside the scope of negation. The need to be in the scope of a licenser creates a semantic and syntactic dependency, as the polarity item must be c-commanded by the licenser at some syntactic level. Polarity, therefore, is a true interface phenomenon and raises the question of well-formedness that depends on both semantics and syntax. Nonveridical polarity contexts can be negative, but also non-monotonic such as modal contexts, questions, other non-assertive contexts (imperatives, subjunctives), generic and habitual sentences, and disjunction. Some NPIs and FCIs appear freely in these contexts in many languages, and some NPIs prefer negative contexts. Within negative licensers, we make a distinction between classically and minimally negative contexts. There are no NPIs that appear only in minimally negative contexts. The distributions of NPIs and FCIs crosslinguistically can be understood in terms of general patterns, and there are individual differences due largely to the lexical semantic content of the polarity item paradigms. Three general patterns can be identified as possible lexical sources of polarity. The first is the presence of a dependent variable in the polarity item—a property characterizing NPIs and FCIs in many languages, including Greek, Mandarin, and Korean. Secondly, the polarity item may be scalar: English any and FCIs can be scalar, but Greek, Korean, and Mandarin NPIs are not. Finally, it has been proposed that NPIs can be exhaustive, but exhaustivity is hard to precisely identify in a non-stipulative way, and does not characterize all NPIs. NPIs that are not exhaustive tend to be referentially vague, which means that the speaker uses them only if she is unable to identify a specific referent for them.

Article

Polysemy  

Agustín Vicente and Ingrid L. Falkum

Polysemy is characterized as the phenomenon whereby a single word form is associated with two or several related senses. It is distinguished from monosemy, where one word form is associated with a single meaning, and homonymy, where a single word form is associated with two or several unrelated meanings. Although the distinctions between polysemy, monosemy, and homonymy may seem clear at an intuitive level, they have proven difficult to draw in practice. Polysemy proliferates in natural language: Virtually every word is polysemous to some extent. Still, the phenomenon has been largely ignored in the mainstream linguistics literature and in related disciplines such as philosophy of language. However, polysemy is a topic of relevance to linguistic and philosophical debates regarding lexical meaning representation, compositional semantics, and the semantics–pragmatics divide. Early accounts treated polysemy in terms of sense enumeration: each sense of a polysemous expression is represented individually in the lexicon, such that polysemy and homonymy were treated on a par. This approach has been strongly criticized on both theoretical and empirical grounds. Since at least the 1990s, most researchers converge on the hypothesis that the senses of at least many polysemous expressions derive from a single meaning representation, though the status of this representation is a matter of vivid debate: Are the lexical representations of polysemous expressions informationally poor and underspecified with respect to their different senses? Or do they have to be informationally rich in order to store and be able to generate all these polysemous senses? Alternatively, senses might be computed from a literal, primary meaning via semantic or pragmatic mechanisms such as coercion, modulation or ad hoc concept construction (including metaphorical and metonymic extension), mechanisms that apparently play a role also in explaining how polysemy arises and is implicated in lexical semantic change.

Article

Semantics and Pragmatics of Monkey Communication  

Philippe Schlenker, Emmanuel Chemla, and Klaus Zuberbühler

Rich data gathered in experimental primatology in the last 40 years are beginning to benefit from analytical methods used in contemporary linguistics, especially in the area of semantics and pragmatics. These methods have started to clarify five questions: (i) What morphology and syntax, if any, do monkey calls have? (ii) What is the ‘lexical meaning’ of individual calls? (iii) How are the meanings of individual calls combined? (iv) How do calls or call sequences compete with each other when several are appropriate in a given situation? (v) How did the form and meaning of calls evolve? Four case studies from this emerging field of ‘primate linguistics’ provide initial answers, pertaining to Old World monkeys (putty-nosed monkeys, Campbell’s monkeys, and colobus monkeys) and New World monkeys (black-fronted Titi monkeys). The morphology mostly involves simple calls, but in at least one case (Campbell’s -oo) one finds a root–suffix structure, possibly with a compositional semantics. The syntax is in all clear cases simple and finite-state. With respect to meaning, nearly all cases of call concatenation can be analyzed as being semantically conjunctive. But a key question concerns the division of labor between semantics, pragmatics, and the environmental context (‘world’ knowledge and context change). An apparent case of dialectal variation in the semantics (Campbell’s krak) can arguably be analyzed away if one posits sufficiently powerful mechanisms of competition among calls, akin to scalar implicatures. An apparent case of noncompositionality (putty-nosed pyow–hack sequences) can be analyzed away if one further posits a pragmatic principle of ‘urgency’. Finally, rich Titi sequences in which two calls are re-arranged in complex ways so as to reflect information about both predator identity and location are argued not to involve a complex syntax/semantics interface, but rather a fine-grained interaction between simple call meanings and the environmental context. With respect to call evolution, the remarkable preservation of call form and function over millions of years should make it possible to lay the groundwork for an evolutionary monkey linguistics, illustrated with cercopithecine booms.

Article

The Acquisition of Color Words  

Katie Wagner and David Barner

Human experience of color results from a complex interplay of perceptual and linguistic systems. At the lowest level of perception, the human visual system transforms the visible light portion of the electromagnetic spectrum into a rich, continuous three-dimensional experience of color. Despite our ability to perceptually discriminate millions of different color shades, most languages categorize color into a number of discrete color categories. While the meanings of color words are constrained by perception, perception does not fully define them. Once color words are acquired, they may in turn influence our memory and processing speed for color, although it is unlikely that language influences the lowest levels of color perception. One approach to examining the relationship between perception and language in forming our experience of color is to study children as they acquire color language. Children produce color words in speech for many months before acquiring adult meanings for color words. Research in this area has focused on whether children’s difficulties stem from (a) an inability to identify color properties as a likely candidate for word meanings, or alternatively (b) inductive learning of language-specific color word boundaries. Lending plausibility to the first account, there is evidence that children more readily attend to object traits like shape, rather than color, as likely candidates for word meanings. However, recent evidence has found that children have meanings for some color words before they begin to produce them in speech, indicating that in fact, they may be able to successfully identify color as a candidate for word meaning early in the color word learning process. There is also evidence that prelinguistic infants, like adults, perceive color categorically. While these perceptual categories likely constrain the meanings that children consider, they cannot fully define color word meanings because languages vary in both the number and location of color word boundaries. Recent evidence suggests that the delay in color word acquisition primarily stems from an inductive process of refining these boundaries.

Article

Argument Realization and Case in Japanese  

Hideki Kishimoto

Japanese is a language where the grammatical status of arguments and adjuncts is marked exclusively by postnominal case markers, and various argument realization patterns can be assessed by their case marking. Since Japanese is categorized as a language of the nominative-accusative type typologically, the unmarked case-marking frame obtained for transitive predicates of the non-stative (or eventive) type is ‘nominative-accusative’. Nevertheless, transitive predicates falling into the stative class often have other case-marking alignments, such as ‘nominative-nominative’ and ‘dative-nominative’. Consequently, Japanese provides much more varying argument realization patterns than those expected from its typological character as a nominative-accusative language. In point of fact, argument marking can actually be much more elastic and variable, the variations being motivated by several linguistic factors. Arguments often have the option of receiving either syntactic or semantic case, with no difference in the logical or cognitive meaning (as in plural agent and source agent alternations) or depending on the meanings their predicate carry (as in locative alternation). The type of case marking that is not normally available in main clauses can sometimes be obtained in embedded contexts (i.e., in exceptional case marking and small-clause constructions). In complex predicates, including causative and indirect passive predicates, arguments are case-marked differently from their base clauses by virtue of suffixation, and their case patterns follow the mono-clausal case array, despite the fact that they have multi-clausal structures. Various case marking options are also made available for arguments by grammatical operations. Some processes instantiate a change on the grammatical relations and case marking of arguments with no affixation or embedding. Japanese has the grammatical process of subjectivization, creating extra (non-thematic) major subjects, many of which are identified as instances of ‘possessor raising’ (or argument ascension). There is another type of grammatical process, which reduces the number of arguments by virtue of incorporating a noun into the predicate, as found in the light verb constructions with suru ‘do’ and the complex adjective constructions formed on the negative adjective nai ‘non-existent.’

Article

Argument Realization in Syntax  

Malka Rappaport Hovav

Words are sensitive to syntactic context. Argument realization is the study of the relation between argument-taking words, the syntactic contexts they appear in and the interpretive properties that constrain the relation between them.

Article

Chinese Semantics  

Haihua Pan and Yuli Feng

Cross-linguistic data can add new insights to the development of semantic theories or even induce the shift of the research paradigm. The major topics in semantic studies such as bare noun denotation, quantification, degree semantics, polarity items, donkey anaphora and binding principles, long-distance reflexives, negation, tense and aspects, eventuality are all discussed by semanticists working on the Chinese language. The issues which are of particular interest include and are not limited to: (i) the denotation of Chinese bare nouns; (ii) categorization and quantificational mapping strategies of Chinese quantifier expressions (i.e., whether the behaviors of Chinese quantifier expressions fit into the dichotomy of A-Quantification and D-quantification); (iii) multiple uses of quantifier expressions (e.g., dou) and their implication on the inter-relation of semantic concepts like distributivity, scalarity, exclusiveness, exhaustivity, maximality, etc.; (iv) the interaction among universal adverbials and that between universal adverbials and various types of noun phrases, which may pose a challenge to the Principle of Compositionality; (v) the semantics of degree expressions in Chinese; (vi) the non-interrogative uses of wh-phrases in Chinese and their influence on the theories of polarity items, free choice items, and epistemic indefinites; (vii) how the concepts of E-type pronouns and D-type pronouns are manifested in the Chinese language and whether such pronoun interpretations correspond to specific sentence types; (viii) what devices Chinese adopts to locate time (i.e., does tense interpretation correspond to certain syntactic projections or it is solely determined by semantic information and pragmatic reasoning); (ix) how the interpretation of Chinese aspect markers can be captured by event structures, possible world semantics, and quantification; (x) how the long-distance binding of Chinese ziji ‘self’ and the blocking effect by first and second person pronouns can be accounted for by the existing theories of beliefs, attitude reports, and logophoricity; (xi) the distribution of various negation markers and their correspondence to the semantic properties of predicates with which they are combined; and (xii) whether Chinese topic-comment structures are constrained by both semantic and pragmatic factors or syntactic factors only.