NASSLLI 2016 Course:
Where linguistic meaning meets non-linguistic cognition

Tim Hunter and Paul Pietroski

A speaker of a natural language has an ability associate certain strings of words with certain meanings. A speaker of English, for example, knows that "I saw a man with binoculars" has two distinct meanings, that "I saw a man" has only one, and that "man a saw I" has none. It is not entirely clear, however, exactly what sort of formal object a meaning is. A standard idealizing assumption in semantics is that sentences' meanings are individuated just as finely as truth-conditions, and this assumption makes it natural to ask questions about logical relations among sentences (e.g., entailment, synonymy) and to adopt tools from logic for describing and theorizing about meanings. But it is an empirical question whether the discoveries that this methodology leads to exhaustively characterize the properties of natural language meanings; and since these meanings are representations in the finite minds of speakers, we should not necessarily be surprised to discover that they have more internal structure than an unstructured function that maps worlds to truth values.

The main goals of this course are (a) to present a series of experimental findings that not only support this richer conception of meaning but also begin to uncover the particular richer properties of certain English sentences, and (b) to illustrate a general approach to linguistics that emphasizes its place among the cognitive sciences and therefore seeks out novel sources of evidence that might constrain linguistic theories.

Lecture slides:

Links to relevant papers:

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