SICSA DVF: Harvard Professor Stuart Shieber

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Date(s) - 12/06/2014
11:00 am - 12:30 pm

University of Aberdeen

seminar: What’s so great about compositionality? — Compositionality is the tenet that the meaning of an expression is determined by the meanings of its immediate parts along with their method of combination. The semantics of artificial languages (such as programming languages or logics) are uniformly given compositionally, so that the notion doesn’t even arise in that literature. Linguistic theories, on the other hand, differ as to whether the relationship that they posit between the syntax and semantics of a natural language is structured in a compositional manner. Theories following the tradition of Richard Montague take compositionality to be a Good Thing, whereas theories in the transformational tradition eschew it.

I will look at what compositionality is and isn’t, why it seems desirable, why it seems problematic, and whether its advantages can’t be provided by other means. In particular, I argue that synchronous semantics can provide many of the advantages of compositionality, whether it is itself properly viewed as a compositional method, as well as having interesting practical applications.
For more information contact Dr Adam Wyner (

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