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Manfred Krifka has a very short entry on compositionality in the MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences. (The first link requires access from the UMass campus. If you are not on campus, you can access the MIT Encyclopedia by logging into the CogNet data base via the UMass library website). A longer philosophical discussion of compositionality can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (by Zoltán Gendler Szabó). An accessible article on compositionality that is at the same time an elementary introduction to semantic analysis from a linguist's point of view is Barbara Partee's "Lexical Semantics and Compositionality", which appears in the 1995 edition of An Invitation to Cognitive Science (D. Osherson general editor); Volume 1: Language, edited by L. Gleitman & M. Liberman, Cambridge/Mass. (the MIT Press), 311 - 360. Barbara Partee's volume of selected papers very fittingly bears the title Compositionality in Formal Semantics.



In philosophy and philosophical logic, it became clear during the sixties and seventies that probability conditionals, deontic conditionals, and counterfactuals needed a non-traditional analysis: they could not be analyzed as material implications or as material implications under the scope of some modal operator. Lewis' 1973 paper "Adverbs of Quantification" was an important influence for linguists looking for syntactically and semantically plausible analyses of conditionals. In my 1978 dissertation and subsequent work, I proposed a unified analysis for all types of if-clauses as restrictors of overt or non-overt operators. A summary of some of this work is my short 1985 paper "Conditionals". An important follow-up is von Fintel's 1994 Restrictions on Quantifier Domains. Bhatt and Pancheva's survey article Conditionals represents the state of the art with respect to the syntax of conditionals.


conjunction of common nouns

Caroline Heycock and Roberto Zamparalli "Friends and Colleagues: Plurality, Coordination, and the Structure of DP" in Natural Language Semantics. Free Access from Campus or via the UMass library.


conjunction of predicates of events

In late Egyptian, Demotic, and Coptic, there is a special verb form, the "conjunctive", whose function seems to be to describe non-Boolean conjunction of predicates of events. You can read more about this construction in Leo Depuydt's 1993 book Conjunction, Contiguity, Contingency: On Relationships between Events in the Egyptian and Coptic Verbal Systems. Oxford University Press. Non-Boolean conjunction of event predicates might also be involved in a certain kind of serial verb construction ("consequential serial verb constructions", CSVCs) that Mark Baker and Osamuyimen T. Stewart have discussed in a series of unpublished papers. As described in Baker & Stewart (2002), "Semantically, CSVCs describe composite events, which are made up of two distinct subevents that the agent performs in sequence as part of a single overall plan." Depuydt characterizes the function of the conjunctive in a similar way: "In what follows, it is argued that one of the functions of the Late Egyptian, Demotic, and Coptic conjunctive--also its original function--is to present two or more events jointly as single notions".


conversational implicatures

There is a lot of literature on this topic, and it is hard for me to pick out the 'must reads'. Here are a few possibilities: Entry on Implicatures in the Stanford Encyclopedia; Gamut's reconstruction of Gricean conversational implicatures (PDF 2.3 MB); Larry Horn's article "Implicature" in the Blackwell Handbook of Pragmatics. A special treat are Kai von Fintel's audios on his pragmatics website. His pragmatics lecture notes also include a chapter on conversational implicatures. Richard Breheny and Napoleon Katsos' lectures Implicatures in Language and Cognition at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris can be watched on video. A much discussed article arguing for a fully grammaticized derivation of scalar implicatures is Chierchia's 2004 paper "Scalar Implicatures, Polarity Phenomena, and the Syntax/Pragmatics Interface". An extended argument against a fully grammaticized derivation of scalar implicatures is Benjamin Russell's "Against Grammatical Computation of Scalar Implicatures." See also Levinson's book and the Grice biography on the bookshelf.


count nouns and mass nouns

Susan Rothstein: "Counting and the Mass-Count Distinction". Videos of lectures on the semantics of number and the mass/count distinction by Gennaro Chierchia (the lectures are in English, the site is French).


definite descriptions

The classic readings are Bertrand Russell's "On Denoting" (Mind 1905) and Peter Strawson's "On Referring" (Mind 1950). A very accessible overview of the major semantic conundrums presented by definite descriptions is Irene Heim's "Articles and Definiteness". A collection of recent papers is Marga Reimer and Anne Bezuidenhout's Descriptions and Beyond (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2004). The current focus in linguistics is on the properties of different types of definite descriptions: Karen Ebert's often-cited 1971 dissertation on the two definite articles in Fering (an endangered North Frisian dialect) is the most important early reference (it is written in German). For the latest developments in this area consult Florian Schwarz's website, e.g. his handout for the OSU workshop on Presupposition Accommodation. Magdalena Schwager has posted slides from a 2007 presentation on the two Bavarian definite articles (PDF)



A good overview of the classical puzzles is Ray Jennings' article in the Stanford Encyclopedia. Two important dissertations that jointly discuss just about all the issues that are currently under active investigation are Mandy Simons' 1998 Cornell University dissertation and Luis Alonso-Ovalle's 2006 UMass dissertation. Both authors also have a number of shorter articles on or that can be downloaded from their websites. A landmark article on disjunctions is Zimmermann's "Free Choice disjunctions and Epistemic Possibilities". A follow-up is Geurts' "Entertaining alternatives: disjunctions as modals".



Chapter 3 of Terry Parsons' Semantics Primer gives you a sense of why an event semantics may help with the semantics of adverbial modification. The chapter provides the guiding ideas, but does not implement them within a compositional semantics. The paper that inspired Parson's chapter is Donald Davidson's classical article "The Logical Form of Action Sentences". You can find it in collections of Davidson's papers, e.g in Essays on Actions and Events. Here is a link to a PDF version (17 MB) that you can access with your UMail password. Useful overview articles on mereology (the logic of parts and wholes) and events from a philosophical perspective can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. My Event Argument (contracted with MIT Press) explores the properties of verbal projections (argument association, pluractionality, serialization, voice alternations, Aktionsarten) from a Davidsonian perspective.


exhaustive interpretations

The two classics on exhaustification via circumscription are McCarthy's "Circumscription: a form of non-monotonic reasoning" and "Applications of circumscription to formalizing common sense knowledge." Schulz and van Rooij's "Pragmatic meaning and non-monotonic reasoning: the case of exhaustive interpretation" is the standard modern reference on circumscription in natural language semantics. Benjamin Spector's 2005 dissertation Aspects de la pragmatique des opérateurs logiques is the representative work on exhaustification via exclusion of contextual alternatives. The dissertation is in French, but there is an English appendix ("Scalar implicatures: exhaustivity and Gricean reasoning"), which lays out some of the major ideas. I have argued in talks and lectures over the last five years (see my Paris lectures) that the bulk of the exhaustification data falls out without any further assumptions from modules that are independently needed, including talk about minimal verifying situations, as in Davidsonian event semantics and situation semantics. My article on situations in natural language semantics gives a summary of those ideas.


fieldwork in semantics

What are semantic data? What are the basic techniques for soliciting semantic data in fieldwork situations? Lisa Matthewson on the methodology of semantic fieldwork.


history of formal semantics in north-america

Barbara Partee: "Reflections of a Formal Semanticist as of February 2005". This is a longer version of the introduction to Compositionality in Formal Semantics. Selected Papers by Barbara H. Partee. Oxford (Blackwell Publishers), 2004.


lambda calculus

A chapter on the lambda calculus from a mathematician's point of view by John Harrison. Access with your UMail password. Potts' Logic for Linguists includes a short introduction and exercises.


language & thought

Does the language we speak influence the way we conceptualize events? Gennari, Sloman, Malt & Fitch on motion events in language and cognition.



A first overview can be found in the article on mereology (by Achille Varzi) in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. My favorite introduction to mereology is in the first three pages of David Lewis' 1991 book Parts of Classes (Blackwell Publishers, Oxford). Also check out Casati and Varzi's book on Parts and Places on the book shelf.


model-theoretic semantics

Heim and Kratzer deliberately do not relativize their denotations to models. Models also do not play a role in Larson and Segal's Knowledge of Meaning: An Introduction to Semantics (free access from campus via the CogNet library). David Lewis does not use models in his seminal 1970 paper "General Semantics" (big PDF file, access with your UMail password). What are models meant to capture in formal semantics? What is their job? Why is it that many textbooks and articles in natural language semantics relativize semantic denotations to a model? In fact, formal semantics is often literally equated with model-theoretic semantics, rather than just truth-theoretic semantics, for example. Why? The use of models in natural language semantics is not uncontroversial. To see what the potentially problematic issues are, take a look at John Etchemendy's book on logical consequence, which is featured on the book shelf page. There is an earlier article by Etchemendy on model-theoretic semantics, which appeared in Linguistics and Philosophy, and there is also an unpublished article that clarifies certain issues in his book. You can access both articles with your UMail user name and password. Another highly recommended article on model-theoretic semantics is Thomas Ede Zimmermann's "Meaning Postulates and the Model-Theoretic Approach to Natural Language Semantics", which also appeared in Linguistics and Philosophy.


perception reports

Here are two influential articles on direct perception reports in the Journal of Philosophy: one by Jon Barwise (1981) and the other one by Jim Higginbotham (1983).



If you don't read anything else on presuppositions, read Heim's 1990 paper on presupposition projection. Lauri Karttunen's 1974 article "Presupposition and Linguistic Context" is an early example of the "satisfaction" approach to presupposition projection. It can be downloaded from his website. The same website also has Karttunen and Peters' work on presuppositions (referred to as "conventional implicatures") within a two-dimensional semantics. Beaver's handbook article (PostScript) gives an overview of presupposition theories during the last 100 years or so. Beaver also compiled a bibliography of work on presuppositions. The videos of Bart Geurts' Paris lectures on presuppositions discuss the two most influential current theories of presuppositions (the "satisfaction theory", as represented by Karttunen, Stalnaker, and Heim, and the "binding theory", as represented by Geurts and van der Sandt).


universals in semantics

Are there semantic universals among the linguistic universals? The question is difficult in part because of the difficulty to isolate those semantic properties of natural languages that are contributed by cognitive components that are not part of a species-specific language faculty. Which (if any) semantic design features of human languages are not reducible to general properties of our system of thought, which we might very well share with other species? Here is a brand new article on universals in semantics by Kai von Fintel and Lisa Matthewson.