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					What does “meaning” mean?

      Linguistics lecture #3
       November 2, 2006

•   Interfaces with and within language
•   Mind/body and formalism/functionalism
•   The problem of meaning
•   The syntax-semantics interface

Language is half in the mind,
 half in the physical world

• Mental language interfaces with the
  physical world in semantics (meaning)
• Mental language interfaces with the
  physical world in phonology (form)
• Syntax is the interface between semantics
  and phonology

            Formalist view
• Modularity hypothesis: semantics, syntax,
  and phonology have their own grammatical
  structure, and are not influenced or shaped
  by their interface roles
• Thus syntax is not shaped by semantics
• Likewise, phonology is not shaped by the
  physical side of speech

          Functionalist view
• Interactionist hypothesis: semantics,
  syntax, and phonology are strongly
  influenced by their interface roles
• Some formalists permit functionalism, but
  only in biological evolution
• For example, they say that syntax is innate,
  but that it evolved to solve the semantics-
  phonology interface problem
Linguists see interfaces everywhere
 • Nonlinguistic cognition (e.g. vision, muscle
   control) interfaces with the physical world
 • This interface uses nonlinguistic mental
   representations (e.g. visual images)
 • These nonlinguistic mental representations
   interface with formal propositions
 • Propositions interface with the actual
   sentences of syntax
 • Syntax interfaces with phonology, which
   interfaces with the physical world again     7
           Physical world       (images etc)

       Mental representations



           Physical world
     Is meaning an interface?
• What does “dog” mean? Two things:
   It refers to something in the world:

                  “dog” = 
   It can be defined in terms of other forms:
    “dog” = “animal with four legs that…”
                “dog” = 「狗」

  Yes, meanings are interfaces
• Meaning type  is Reference: what a
  linguistic form refers to in the real world*
  *Actually, it’s an interface between linguistic
  form and mental representations of the world
  (shaped partly by vision, etc)
• Meaning type  is Sense: a formal
  representation of meaning*
  *This is the mental thing that the linguistic form
  links to: propositions
      The nature of reference
• Proper names refer to individuals
  (1) James Myers is here.
• Common words refer to classes
  (2) The American linguist at CCU is here.
• Note that sentences (1) and (2) seem to have
  the same sense (formal equivalence), but
  different references (e.g. if I am replaced by
  another American linguist)
   The reference of a sentence
• The standard theory of sentence meaning is
  truth-conditional semantics:
  A sentence refers to the conditions (maybe
  imaginary) under which it is true.
  (1) George W. Bush is a Taiwanese.
  (2) All Taiwanese have three legs.
• Sentence (1) would be true under different
  conditions than sentence (2), so they have
  different meanings.
      The essential role of sense
• Words and sentences don’t link to the world
  directly, but instead interface through formal
  propositions: sense.
  Sentence: “Chomsky eats dogs.”
  Sense:   A specific person P  called “Chomsky” has a
  relationship R called “eating” with a class C called
  “dogs”, such that R(P,C)
  Reference: A mental representation (using images etc)
  of the situation described by the above proposition
The syntax-semantics interface
• But how are sentences translated into
  formal propositions?
• This issue is closely related to formal logic:
  (1) George W. Bush is a Taiwanese.
  (2) All Taiwanese have three legs.
  (3) Therefore, George W. Bush has three legs.
• This is logically valid : (3) follows from (1)
  and (2), even though they are false.
              Syntax and logic
• The above reasoning is valid because of its
  abstract structure:
  (1) X is a Y.
  (2) All Y have Z.
  (3) X has Z.
                      Quantifier        Noun        VP

• This is syntax:        All             Y         have Z
        Semantics and formalism
• The syntax-proposition interface obeys its
  own formal rules that seem to be unrelated
  to experience with the real world
  (1)   Bill told John about him. him  Bill, him  John
  (2)   Bill told John about himself.         himself = Bill
  (3)   Bill told John to kill himself.   himself = John
  (4)   Bill told John he is smart. he = Bill or he = John

  Formal semantic universals?
• “Self” words in English must be linked to
  words “close enough” in the sentence:
  Bill told John to say Henry likes himself.
        himself = Henry, and nobody else
• But Chinese allows long-distance reference:
  自己 = 襲充文 or 麥傑 (but not 王一奇)

        Syntax and ambiguity
• Ambiguous sentences have multiple meanings:
     Why do you believe that James is dumb?
• Remember? In this case, ambiguity comes from
  two different deep structures:
  (1) [Why]x do you believe x that James is dumb?
       “What makes you believe this about James?”
  (2) [Why]x do you believe that James is dumb x ?
       “What causes James to be dumb?”
   Propositions and ambiguity
• Ambiguity with only one deep structure:
            A student read every book.
  Proposition 1:
    [a student]x [ [every book]y [x read y] ]
      “There is a student who read every book.”
  Proposition 2:
    [every book]y [a student]x [[x read y] ]
      “For every book, there is a student who read it.”

Ambiguity and transformations?
• The ambiguity of the “James is dumb”
  sentence comes from the transformation
  from deep structure to surface structure.
• Maybe the ambiguity of the “student”
  sentence comes from another
       surface structure to propositions

Transforming into propositions
• If this is right, then creating propositions
  should obey syntactic constraints: some
  transformation should be “illegal”
• So with more complex syntax, ambiguity in
  the “student” sentence disappears:
  A student said that [he read every book]
  (1) [a student]x [[every book]y [x said that [hex read y]]]
  (2) *[every book]y [[a student]x [x said that [hex read y]]]
  Semantics and functionalism
• This formal stuff works pretty well, but
  people also interpret sentences using real-
  world knowledge
  (1) Bill told John she is smart.     she  Bill or John
  (2) Bill told John. He was surprised.       he = John
  (3) Bill told John. He shouldn’t have.         he = Bill
  (4) Bill told John he should listen.     he = John…?

• Language interfaces with the world through
  semantics and phonology
• Formalists believe in modularity,
  functionalists don’t
• Meaning involves both sense and reference
• Interpreting sentences requires transforming
  them into propositions
• Real-world knowledge is also necessary


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