Compositionality Problems and how to Solve Them

Thomas Ede Zimmermann

in The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Compositionality Problems and how to Solve Them


Semantic theories account for the literal, conventional meanings of linguistic expressions, and they tend to do so by assigning them one or more semantic values: extensions, intensions, and characters. Lest semantics should be a cul-de-sac, at least some of these values must be interpretable from the outside. The semantic values, are supposed to figure in accounts of preconditions of utterances and their communicative effects, contributing aspects of their literal meaning. The semantic values are assigned to expressions, not to surface strings. The disambiguation of surface strings usually shows in the part-whole structure of the underlying expressions. The semantically relevant parts of an expression need not be determined according to its surface structure. Rather, there is a specific level of syntactic analysis—sometimes called Logical Form (LF)—that defines the syntactic input to semantic analysis. The compositional treatment of an expression may call for otherwise unmotivated structuring.

Keywords: semantic values; surface strings; syntactic analysis; semantic theories; syntactic constructions

Article.  9628 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Semantics

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