The case for compositionality

Zoltán Gendler Szabó

in The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199541072
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

The case for compositionality


This article presents three more-or-less-traditional considerations for compositionality. The first is that the usual statement of the compositionality principle is massively ambiguous. One of the eight available readings rules out all sources of multiplicity in meaning in complex expressions besides the lexicon and the syntax. Others are more permissive—how much more is not always clear. The second claim is that traditional considerations in favour of compositionality are less powerful than is often assumed. Compositionality is best construed as an empirical hypothesis on meanings expressed in natural languages. Finally, the third claim is that, even if compositionality is true, most of the debates in philosophy, linguistics, and psychology surrounding compositionality will remain open. These debates tend to be about significantly stronger theses.

Keywords: compositionality principle; syntax; lexicon; linguistics; philosophy

Article.  8239 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Semantics

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