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Model Theory and the Semantics of Natural Languages

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Tamara Polajnar.

Montague’s original formalization about 1970 of English word and statement meanings in model theory led to a profusion of work by numerous linguists and logicians, extending its coverage to many more grammatical constructions and vocabulary classes and to other natural languages, as well as expanding its scope to questions and commands. A very substantial range of linguistic phenomena have been semantically analyzed with good effect in model theory during the decades since Montague’s pioneering work. Throughout this period, though, model theory has been attacked by some philosophers of language and linguists as incapable in principle of explaining meaning in natural languages.

This talk reviews attacks from different bases by Davidson, Kaplan, Zimmerman, and others, and assesses their force. The nature of model theory and of models will be a focus, and the relationship between model theory and meaning will be clarified. I argue that these attacks badly miss their mark: in this literature the fallacy of confusing models with what they model is rife. Suggestions will be offered for how model theory could be supplemented to fulfill additional desiderata for a theory of meaning.

This talk is part of the NLIP Seminar Series series.

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