CONTEXT AND VARIABLES

ASC

Location: Wharton Room, All Souls College, Oxford
Date: 13 May 2017 (11 - 5:30pm)

SPEAKERS

Brian Rabern, Edinburgh
Paolo Santorio, Leeds
Una Stojnić, NYU/Columbia

ORGANIZERS

Daniel Rothschild, UCL
Alex Silk, Birmingham

SCHEDULE

10:15-10:45 Coffee

10:45-12:30 Paolo Santorio, Context-Free Semantics

Abstract: Kaplan famously asserted that natural language (or at least, English) contains no context-shifting operators—what he dubs “monsters”. The claim has generated much controversy, partly because it’s unclear what it amounts to. Interpretations of it vary widely, ranging from ones that make it into a conceptual truth (Stalnaker) to ones that make it patently false (Rabern and Ball). I suggest that the way to make the claim both theoretically interesting and empirically substantial is to shift attention to a different question. Rather than “Are there monsters in language L?”, the question that carves conceptual space at the joints is “Is language L monstrous?”—where a language is monstrous iff all the contextual parameters it exploits are (in principle) shiftable. I argue that (i) this makes best sense both of Kaplan’s claim about monsters and of his opposition to them, and (ii) that, in combination with recent empirical work, it shows that Kaplan-style semantic frameworks should be dropped, and we should revert to simple double-indexing frameworks.

Comments: Anders Schoubye

12:30-1:30 Lunch

1:30-3:15 Una Stojnic, Context and The Grammar of Prominence

Abstract: The received view, going back to at least Grice and Kaplan is that the resolution of context-sensitivity is at least partly determined by the non-linguistic features of utterance. If I say ‘That’s lovely’ what ‘That’ picks out is ultimately determined by my referential and communicative intentions, and my interlocutors are to use whatever epistemic cues the context makes available to identify my intention. While the standard view is prima facie appealing, I argue it is mistaken. I develop and defend a formal theory of context according to which context-sensitivity resolution is a matter of a set of linguistic rules governing prominence of candidate resolutions in a discourse. This constrains the role of context, both in linguistic analyses and in philosophical argumentation in ways that avoid some of the major problems for standard contextualism.

Comments: Ethan Nowak

3:15-3:45 Tea

3:45-5:30 Brian Rabern, The myth of occurrence-based semantics

Abstract: The principle of compositionality requires that the meaning of a complex remains the same after substitution of synonymous expressions. Theorists have been largely successful in providing compositional treatments of various problematic constructions, but certain recalcitrant cases remain. The apparent counterexamples to compositionality seem to force a theoretical choice: either apparent synonyms are not synonyms or synonyms do not syntactically occur where they appear to occur. Some have seen in Frege a doctrine of occurrence-based semantics, which provides an attractive alternative. According to this Fregean doctrine, the Bedeutung of an expression is sensitive to the linguistic context it is embedded in. It is thought that this doctrine can retain the relevant claims about synonymy and substitution (but relativized to an occurrence), while respecting the compositionality principle. Proponents of occurrence-based semantics promise liberation from the constraints of standard semantics. Thus, Salmon (2006) and more recently Glanzberg and King (manuscript) offer an occurrence-based alternative for variable-binding, which promises to avoid the unpalatable consequences of the standard approaches. Similarly, Pagin and Westerståhl (2010) argue that an occurrence-based semantics delivers a compositional account of quotation. We argue that the idea that there is a Frege-inspired occurrence-based semantics which provides an alternative to the standard expression-based semantics is a myth.

5:30-6:30 Drinks reception


Sponsored by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council Grant AH/N001877/1

AHRC