Pragmatics and Semantics of Adjectives, etc. (Guest Speaker Michael McCourt, 5/28/13)

Michael McCourt, a grad student in the UMD philosophy department, spoke to us about the semantics of adjectives (e.g. “why a blue diamond is a diamond but a fake diamond is not a diamond”), and gave us a general overview of different approaches to semantics.

Slideshow is available here.

NOTES (thanks to Megan Chao):

  • Truth and meaning
    • Truth conditional semantics
      • On one conception of semantics, a theory of meaning pairs sentences with their truth conditions, version of truth conditional semantics (TCS)
      • Know meaning of sentence -> know truth conditions and vice versa
    • Truth conditions
      • A sentence S is true iff p
      • Tarski biconditional
    • Compositionality
      • Competent speakers can understand sentences they have never heard b4
      • Limited # of lexical meanings and modes of composition -> infinite # of sentences
      • TCS has to respect principle of compositionality
    • Frege on compositionality
      • Saturated meaning are complete, while unsaturated ones are not
      • Unsaturated meanings as functions
      • When you apply an unsaturated meaning, you produce one meaning from the function, which is the saturated meaning.
    • First pass at a theory of semantic composition
      • Take the sentence “Ann swims”
      • [[Ann]] (the semantic value of Ann) is clearly the person called Ann
      • According to Frege, [[swims]] is a function from objects to truth values (It’s true if the object it applies to actually does swim)
    • Adjectives
      • What is [[gray]]? It really just combines with the meanings of nouns.
      • Adjectives like that are intersective. The set of grey cats is the intersection of the set of grey things and the set of cats.
      • Adjectives like ‘gray’ are also subsective. The set of gray cats is a subset of gray things. Most adjectives appear to be like this.
      • Some adjectives are subsective but not intersective. For example, “Sally is a beautiful dancer” could still be true even if Sally isn’t that great of a dancer, if you read it the right way.
      • Non-intersective, non-subsective adjectives do exist: For example, ‘fake’, ‘alleged’, etc.
      • ‘Fake’ is a privative adjective, since a ‘fake’ something is not that something.
      • Some argue that ‘Fake’ is not privative, since it just broadens the denotation of whatever it is applying to in that use only. This kind of respects our intuition more.
      • Consider: A fake diamond1 is not a diamond2.
      • In fact, we may need this to explain sentences like “A small elephant isn’t small”
      • So maybe all adjectives are intersective.
    • Not all sentences are complete in and of themselves:
      • Ned is ready. (for what? We need to know to give a truth value)
      • John is tall. (compared to what?)
      • Bill noticed. (noticed what?)
      • Sue might be in Boston (how do you give a truth value to ‘might’?)
      • Etc
      • We may need some mind-reading or something to get the correct meaning, since it can vary depending on the context
    • Frege’s solution to the puzzles
      • Sinn (sense) vs. Bedetung (reference)
      • (29) The first sentence here is not true.
        • Basically “This sentence is true iff it is false.” à PARADOX

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *