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Context, Content, and Compositionality

Objective

Over the past fifteen years, I have argued that the effects of context on content go well beyond what is standardly acknowledged in semantics. This view is sometimes referred to as Contextualism or (more technically) Truth-Conditional Pragmatics (TCP). The key idea is that the effects of context on content need not be traceable to the linguistic material in the uttered sentence. Some effects are due to the linguistic material (e.g. to context-sensitive words or morphemes which trigger the search for contextual values), but others result from top-down or free pragmatic processes that take place not because the linguistic material demands it, but because the literal meaning of the sentence requires adjustment or elaboration ( modulation ) in order to determine a contextually admissible content for the speaker s utterance. In the literature, one often finds arguments to the effect that, if Contextualism is right, then systematic semantics becomes impossible. More precisely, the claim that is often made is that TCP is incompatible with the Principle of Compositionality, upon which any systematic semantics must be based. The aim of this project is to defend Contextualism/TCP by demonstrating that it is not incompatible with the project of constructing a systematic, compositional semantics for natural language. This demonstration is of importance given the current predicament in the philosophy of language. We are, as it were, caught in a dilemma : formal semanticists provide compelling arguments that natural language must be compositional, but contextualists offer no less compelling arguments to the effect that « sense modulation is essential to speech, because we use a (mor or less) fixed stock of lexemes to talk about an indefinite variety of things, situations, and experiences » (Recanati 2004 : 131). What are we to do, if modulation is incompatible with compositionality? Our aim is to show that it is not, and thereby to dissolve the alleged dilemma.

Field of science

  • /humanities/languages and literature/literature - general
  • /humanities/languages and literature/linguistics/phonetics
  • /humanities/languages and literature/languages - general
  • /humanities/philosophy, ethics and religion/philosophy

Call for proposal

ERC-2008-AdG
See other projects for this call

Funding Scheme

ERC-AG - ERC Advanced Grant

Host institution

CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA RECHERCHE SCIENTIFIQUE CNRS
Address
Rue Michel Ange 3
75794 Paris
France
Activity type
Research Organisations
EU contribution
€ 1 144 706
Principal investigator
François Recanati (Dr.)
Administrative Contact
Ludovic Hamon (Mr.)

Beneficiaries (1)

CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA RECHERCHE SCIENTIFIQUE CNRS
France
EU contribution
€ 1 144 706
Address
Rue Michel Ange 3
75794 Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Principal investigator
François Recanati (Dr.)
Administrative Contact
Ludovic Hamon (Mr.)