Formal Semantics

Jeffrey C. King

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language

Published in print September 2008 | ISBN: 9780199552238
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Formal Semantics

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  • Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic



Semantics is the discipline that studies linguistic meaning generally, and the qualification ‘formal’ indicates something about the sorts of techniques used in investigating linguistic meaning. More specifically, formal semantics is the discipline that employs techniques from symbolic logic, mathematics, and mathematical logic to produce precisely characterized theories of meaning for natural languages (i.e. naturally occurring languages such as English, Urdu, etc.) or artificial languages (i.e. first-order predicate logic, computer programming languages etc.). Formal semantics as we know it first arose in the twentieth century. It was made possible by certain developments in logic during that period. This article chronicles those developments and how they led to the development of formal semantics.

Keywords: linguistic meaning; semantics; symbolic logic; mathematical logic; natural language; computer programming

Article.  9008 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic

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