Events

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

The first lecture is intended to be accessible to a general audience but still interesting for linguists and philosophers. The second and third lectures should be accessible to students as well as colleagues in linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, etc.. The second and the third each presuppose the first (or Partee 2011), but the third will not presuppose the second.


Lecture 1, General audience: Logic and Language: A History of Ideas and Controversies

Wednesday November 7, 3:30-5:30, Maryland Room, Marie Mount Hall

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.


Lecture 2: The Starring Role of Quantifiers in the History of Formal Semantics

Thursday November 8, 3:30-5:30, Maryland Room, Marie Mount Hall

The history of formal semantics as described in Lecture I features quantifiers at several points. In this talk I’ll look more closely at crucial turning points in the history of semantics where quantifiers have played a major role. One example: the theory Chomsky described in his 1965 Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, where meaning was determined at Deep Structure and transformations were meaning-preserving, ushered in a brief “Garden of Eden” period; what led to expulsion from the Garden and to the Linguistic Wars was (oversimplifying only a bit) linguists’ discovery of quantifiers. I’ll describe this and a number of other crucial moments, some earlier and some later. The history of formal semantics is much more than the history of treatments of quantifiers, but their story is an important and fascinating chapter.


Lecture 3: Pivotal Moments in the “Naturalization” of Formal Semantics

Friday November 9, 10:00-12:00, Maryland Room, Marie Mount Hall

Philosophers and logicians like Montague were central to the beginnings of formal semantics, but linguists have also played major roles in its development (as well as in raising challenges to some of its central tenets.) Logicians’ earlier descriptions of the logical structure of various natural language locutions indeed seemed linguistically unrealistic. It took the later work of linguists and linguistically more sophisticated philosophers and logicians to develop formal tools that offered a better fit with the structures that linguists ascribe to natural languages. A sample key moment: the Kamp-Heim theory of indefinites and donkey-anaphora (early 80’s) and the accompanying turn to “dynamic semantics”. I will include a few “personal vignettes” as I trace some of the important contributions of linguists and linguistically sophisticated philosophers to formal semantics and formal pragmatics for natural languages.


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.