Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 329-342

First online:

From compositional to systematic semantics

  • Wlodek ZadroznyAffiliated withIBM Research, T. J. Watson Research Center

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We prove a theorem stating that any semantics can be encoded as a compositional semanties, which means that, essentially, the standard definition of compositionality is formally vacuous. We then show that when compositional semantics is required to be “systematic” (that is, the meaning function cannot be arbitrary, but must belong to some class), it is possible to distinguish between compositional and noncompositional semantics. As a result, we believe that the paper clarifies the concept of compositionality and opens the possibility of making systematic formal comparisons of different systems of grammar.