Jeff Pelletier

in Linguistics

ISBN: 9780199772810
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:

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“Compositionality” is used in two different senses, and sometimes the literature seems to be antagonistic because the discussants are employing the different senses. In one sense—let’s call it the “ontological sense”—some complex thing is compositional if it is identical with its parts (with due consideration to the way the parts are arranged). In another sense—let’s call it the “functional sense”—something is compositional if it is a complex thing with some property that can be defined in terms of a function of the same property of its parts (with due consideration to the way the parts are combined). In formal semantics and philosophy of language, the complex things are (usually) syntactically complex items of language, and the property of interest is (usually) meaning. So the question of whether some complex thing is compositional is normally understood as asking whether the meaning of some complex piece of language is a function of the meanings of its parts together with consideration as to how those parts are syntactically combined. Many of the writings about compositionality have occurred in the philosophical literature, and there the contrast has often been with meaning holism. In the “formal” literature the question has been about the conditions on a language (and associated meaning function) that will guarantee that there is some compositional semantics. Within the linguistics literature, much of the writing has been to show how some apparently noncompositional construction can be given a compositional treatment or to argue that it cannot be. There has also been a separate discussion about the effects of context on meaning and how that interacts with communication. Many of these works have broached the topic of whether and how context can be accommodated compositionally.

Article.  17862 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Anthropological Linguistics ; Language Families ; Psycholinguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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