The Principle of Semantic Compositionality (sometimes called ‘Frege's Principle’) is the principle that the meaning of a (syntactically complex) whole is a function only of the meanings of its (syntactic) parts together with the manner in which these parts were combined. This principle has been extremely influential throughout the history of formal semantics; it has had a tremendous impact upon modern linguistics ever since Montague Grammars became known; and it has more recently shown up as a guiding principle for a certain direction in cognitive science.
Despite the fact that The Principle is vague or underspecified at a number of points — such as what meaning is, what counts as a part, what counts as a syntactic complex, what counts as combination — this has not stopped some people from viewing The Principle as obviously true, true almost by definition. And it has not stopped other people from viewing The Principle as false, almost pernicious in its effect. And some of these latter theorists think that it is an empirically false principle while others think of it as a methodologically wrong-headed way to proceed.
In fact, there are approximately 318 arguments against The Principle which can be found in the literature, whereas there are only three (or maybe four) arguments proposed in favor of The Principle. This paper will adjudicate among these arguments. And at the end it will suggest some other way to look at what proponents of compositionality really want.
KeywordsNoun Phrase Lexical Item Literal Meaning Syntactic Analysis Semantic Compositionality
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- Allan, K.: 1986,Linguistic Meaning, Vol. 1, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
- Avramides, A.: 1989,Meaning and Mind, Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Cooper, R.: 1983,Quantification and Syntactic Theory, Dordrecht: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
- Cresswell, M.: 1973,Logics and Languages, London: Methuen.Google Scholar
- Dummett, M.: 1981,Frege: Philosophy of Language, 2nd ed.: Cambridge: Harvard UP.Google Scholar
- Frege, G.: 1884, Die Grundlagen der Arithmertik translated asFoundations of Arthmetic by J. L. Austin, NY: Bantam Books.Google Scholar
- Grice, P.: 1975, ‘Logic and Conversation’ in D. Davidson and G. Harman (eds.),The Logic of Grammar, Encino: Dickenson Publishers.Google Scholar
- Haugeland, J.: 1987,Artificial Intelligence: The Very Idea, Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Higginbotham, J.: 1987, ‘On Semantics’ in LePore (Ed.),New Directions in Semantics, London: Academic Press, pp. 1–54.Google Scholar
- Jackendoff, R.: 1987,Consciousness and the Computational Mind, Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Janssen, T.: 1983,Foundation and Applications of Montague Grammar, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Amsterdam.Google Scholar
- Kamp, H.: 1990, ‘Response to Groenendijk and Stockhof’, unpublished manuscript, University of Stuttgart.Google Scholar
- Kaplan, D.: 1968, ‘What is Russell's Theory of Descriptions?’ reprinted in D. Pears ed.:The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, Oxford: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
- Lakoff, G.: 1987,Women, Fire and Dangerous Things, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Langacker, R.: 1987,Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Vol. 1, Stanford: Stanford UP.Google Scholar
- Lewis, D.: 1972, ‘General Semantics’ in D. Davidson and G. Harman (Eds.),Semantics of Natural Language, Dordrecht: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
- Montague, R.: 1970, ‘Universal Grammar’, in Thomason (1974), pp. 222–246.Google Scholar
- Montague, R.: 1973, ‘The Proper Treatment of Quantification in English’, in Thomason (1974), pp. 247–270.Google Scholar
- Pelletier, F. J.: 1994, ‘On an Argument against Semantic Compositionality’, in D. Prawitz and D. Westerstahl (Eds.),Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
- Schubert, L. K. and Pelletier, F. J.: 1982, ‘From English to Logic: Context-free Computation of “Conventional” Logic Translation’,Journal of Computational Linguistics 8, 27–44.Google Scholar
- Smith, B.: 1987, ‘Philosophy 266: Representations, Formality, and the Foundations of Computation’, unpublished manuscript, Stanford Univ.Google Scholar
- Thomason, R.: 1974,Formal Philosophy, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.Google Scholar
- Zadrozny, W.: 1992, ‘On Compositional Semantics’,Proceedings of COLING-92, pp. 260–266.Google Scholar