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What is Meaning?: Fundamentals of Formal Semantics

ISBN: 978-1-4051-0918-5
246 pages
February 2005, ©2005, Wiley-Blackwell
What is Meaning?: Fundamentals of Formal Semantics (1405109181) cover image
What is Meaning? Fundamentals of Formal Semantics is a concise introduction to the field of semantics as it is actually practiced. Through simple examples, pictures, and metaphors, Paul Portner presents the field’s key ideas about how language works.

  • Explains the fundamental ideas and some of the most significant results of modern semantic theory
  • Combines foundational discussion with simplified analyses of complex phenomena to provide readers with a sense of the fascination to be found in the details of the human language
  • Includes exercises and thought-provoking questions to facilitate learning
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Acknowledgments x

1 The Fundamental Question 1

1.1 What is a Meaning? 3

1.2 Meanings are Out in the World 11

1.3 We should Think of the Meaning of Sentences in Terms of Truth-Conditions 12

2 Putting a Meaning Together from Pieces 28

2.1 Names Refer 29

2.2 Incomplete Propositions 30

2.3 Prediction is Saturation 31

2.4 Compositionality 33

2.5 Syntax and Semantics 34

3 More about Predicates 40

3.1 Other Types of Predicates: Adjectives, Predicate Nominals 40

3.2 Transitive Verbs 44

3.3 Relative Clauses 45

3.4 Topicalization 48

3.5 Sub-atomic Semantics 49

3.6 Modeling Properties with Sets and Functions 54

4 Modifiers 61

4.1 Adjective + N Combination 61

4.2 More Issues with Adjectives 65

4.3 Relative Clauses as Modifier 68

4.4 Adverbs 69

4.5 The Form of Meanings and their World-describing Content 74

5 Complexities of Referring Expressions 78

5.1 Definite NPs 78

5.2 Some Subtleties 80

5.3 A Bit about Indefinite NPs 83

5.4 Theories of Reference 84

5.5 Plurals and Mass Terms 95

5.6 Kinds 99

5.7 Pronouns and Anaphora 102

6 Quantifiers 112

6.1 Generalized Quantifiers: Predicate of Predicates, or Sets of Sets 113

6.2 NP Conjunction 120

6.3 Negative Polarity Items 122

6.4 Quantifiers in Object Position 127

7 Extensional vs. Intensional Contexts 132

8 Tense, Aspect, and Modality 137

8.1 Tense 138

8.2 Aspect 146

8.3 Modality 154

9 Propositional Attitudes 161

9.1 A Possible Worlds Semantics for Belief and Desire 162

9.2 Logical Consequences of the Modal Analysis of Propositional Attitude Verbs 164

9.3 Two foundational Problems: Coreferential Terms and Logical Truths 166

9.4 Structure and Meaning 170

9.5 Or, Have We Reached the Limits of Semantics? 174

10 The Pragmatics of What’s Given 176

10.1 Indexicality and Deixis 177

10.2 Presupposition 178

10.3 Speech Acts 190

10.4 Focus and Topic 195

11 The Pragmatics of Inference 199

11.1 Properties Implicature 203

12 Formal Semantics Today 206

12.1 Diversity within Formal Semantics 206

12.2 Relationships with Other Varieties of Semantics 213

12.3 Relationships with Other Fields 214

Appendix: Answers to Selected Exercises 218

References 223

Index 230

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Paul H. Portner is Associate Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Cognitive Science at Georgetown University. He is co-editor of Formal Semantics: The Essential Readings (with Barbara H. Partee, Blackwell, 2002) as well as the author of numerous articles on topics such as mood and modality, tense and aspect, and the syntax/semantics interface.
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  • explains the fundamental ideas and some of the most significant results of modern semantic theory
  • utilizes an intuitive and engaging style to present the field’s key ideas about how language works through unambiguous examples, pictures, and metaphor
  • combines foundational discussion with simplified analyses of complex phenomena to provide readers with a sense of the fascination to be found in the details of the human language
  • includes exercises and thought-provoking questions to facilitate learning
See More
“An excellent book for advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students. Portner’s approachable, yet serious, presentation gives the reader a firm understanding of the breadth and depth of the science of natural language meaning.” Kai von Fintel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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