Professor Barbara Partee (Distinguished University Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy Emerita, University of Massachusetts, Amherst) is giving a series of three lectures (handouts here), generously supported by Dave Baggett.

This first lecture is intended for a general audience.


There have been centuries of study of logic and of language. Many philosophers and logicians have argued that natural language is logically deficient, or even that “natural language has no logic”. And before the birth of formal semantics in the late 1960’s, both linguists and philosophers were mostly agreed, for very different reasons, that what logicians meant by “semantics” had no relevance for the study of natural language. The logician and philosopher Richard Montague argued that natural languages do have a very systematic semantic structure, but that it can be understood only if one uses a rich enough logic to mirror the rich syntactic structure of natural languages. So changing views of the relation between language and logic have often involved changing views of logic itself, and of linguistic structure. In this talk I’ll describe this chapter in the history of ideas with a minimum of technical detail.

Partee, Barbara H. 2011. Formal semantics: Origins, issues, early impact. In Formal Semantics and Pragmatics. Discourse, Context, and Models. The Baltic Yearbook of Cognition, Logic, and Communication. Vol. 6 (2010), eds. B.H. Partee, M. Glanzberg and J. Skilters, 1-52. Manhattan, KS: New Prairie Press.