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Psychologism and Anti-psychologism in the History of Semantics (talk recording available)

Dr. Barbara H. Partee

Tuesday, October 23, 2012, 01:00pm - 02:00pm

University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Department of Linguistics

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The history of formal semantics over the last 50 years is a story of collaboration among linguists, logicians, and philosophers, and part of that story has involved finding ways to integrate linguistic advances in syntax with logicians’ work on truth-conditional, model-theoretic semantics. Technically, a number of successful ways were found to do that, starting in the early 1970’s, and formal semantics and then also formal pragmatics have blossomed over the decades. But foundational questions were raised by the apparent incompatibility of Chomsky’s view of linguistics as a branch of psychology with the anti-psychologistic Fregean tradition followed by Montague that viewed languages and meanings as abstract objects. In this talk I’ll look at the history of some of these questions: What do competence and performance mean in semantics, from the perspective of various approaches to semantics? Does it matter for “doing semantics” whether meanings are in the head? Does formal semantics demand that knowing a language requires knowing the entailments of all of the sentences of one’s language? (It had better not, but why doesn’t it?) Is a possible-worlds (or possible-situations) view of intensionality compatible with a psychologically realistic view of linguistic competence? My main concern is not to defend particular answers to these questions, but to explore what effects these issues have had on the development of formal semantics and other approaches to semantics.

To view a recording of this talk click here (You will need a Rutgers NetID and password)

Dr. Barbara H. Partee