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Generativist Semantics

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merve kıymaz

on 4 January 2013

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Transcript of Generativist Semantics

Merve Kıymaz Basics of Generative Semantics Katz and Fodor's "bachelor" entry Distinguishers ctd. Jerrold J. Katz and Jerry A. Fodor introduced componental analysis into Generative Grammar.
‘The structure of a semantic theory’ Formal Dictionary Entries Katz and Fodor’s componential analysis does not take its starting point in a contrastive analysis of a set of words belonging to the same lexical field, rather, they give an example of the way in which the different meanings of one single word, when analysed componentially, can be represented in a formalized dictionary as part of a formal grammar.
2 semantic components: markers and distinguishers
Marker: the ‘systematic’ part of the meaning of an item, i.e. those aspects in terms of which selection restrictions are formulated.
A verb like "speak", for instance, requires a human subject, and so (Human) features as a marker.
Distinguishers: represent what is idiosyncratic about the meaning of an item. Next to criteria of systematicity and economy, the decision to consider a descriptive feature a marker or a distinguisher is determined by the question whether that feature is needed for the disambiguation of sentences.
. For instance, in order to explain why language users do not interpret the sentence "the old bachelor finally died" as being ambiguous between a ‘shield-bearer, armiger’ reading and an ‘unmarried’ reading of bachelor, a distinguisher like [young knight serving under the standard of another knight] would be split up into the marker (Young) and the distinguisher [knight serving under the standard of another knight]. Katzian modal: structuralist method of analysis, a formalist system of description, and a mentalist conception of meaning.
3 features:
culmination of the structuralist semantics
explicit attention for the description of meaning in the context of a formal grammar
a renewed interest in the psychological reality of meaning In other words, the absence of ambiguity can be accounted for by supposing that the semantic component ‘young’ is a marker.
An anomaly would in fact arise within the noun phrase the old bachelor if the marker (Young) of the noun combines with the marker (Old) that is activated by the adjective. The unequivocal interpretation of "the old bachelor finally died." indicates that this anomalous interpretation is indeed ruled out. Projection Rules:In Katz and Fodor’s model, the formal mechanism behind the exclusion of semantic anomalies.
responsible for the combination of the lexical meanings of individual words into constituent meanings, and the combination of the latter into a representation of the sentential meaning.
In a constituent like "the old bachelor", the individual semantic representations of the, 'old', and 'bachelor' are amalgamated into a meaning representation of the noun phrase "the old bachelor".
If bachelor is interpreted in the ‘shield-bearer’-sense, the meaning representation of "the old bachelor" features the simultaneous occurrence of (Old) and (Young), and this has to be rejected as anomalous. If 'bachelor', on the other hand, is given the ‘unmarried’ reading or the ‘holder of a certain academic degree’ reading, no anomaly emerges.
the emulation of structuralist semantics the semantics of natural language vs. physics, Katz(1972)
the semantic identity of words (synonymy), oppositeness of meaning (antonymy), taxonomical organization, and the semantic relations between the terms in a lexical field.
formalization plays an essential role in the Katzian model.
Katz does not merely want to determine the relations and properties, but takes them as the input for a further step. The grammar should be able to decide automatically whether or not two words are hyponymous , and for this purpose it will have to contain a formal definition of the concept ‘hyponymy’. For instance, if one of the meanings of 'bachelor' is represented by (Human)(Male)[Who has never married], and if one of the readings of man is represented by (Human)(Male), then we can easily decide that 'bachelor' is a hyponym of 'man': the componential definition of 'bachelor' includes the componential definition of 'man', and that inclusion constitutes the formal definition of hyponymy.

In the second place, Katz and Fodor introduce a psychological element into natural language semantics. The object of investigation is not primarily identified as ‘the structure of the language’, but as an ability of the language user: the explicit aim of linguistic semantics is to describe the ability of the language user to interpret sentences. Tensions in Generative Semantics As Weinreich (1966) remarked, the projection rules blur the distinction between cats chase mice and mice chase cats: the result of the amalgamating process is an unstructured set of features, and this set is identical for both sentences, since they are composed of the same lexical items. Katz (1966, 1967) then introduced ‘complex markers’ of the following type (the
item to be described is "chase"):

Complex markers of this type were meant to ensure that amalgamated semantic representations would still have structure: in cats chase mice, X would be substituted by the representation of cats, and Y by the representation of mice, and in mice chase cats , the opposite would be the case.

The idea of merging the apparatus of formal logic into natural language semantics was adopted by the Generative Semantics.

Further, in its attempt to design a semantically based syntax, Generative Semantics equated the standard categories of predicate logic with specific word classes traditionally known from natural language syntax. Propositions would be equated with sentences (S), predicates, quantifiers and operators with verbs (V), and arguments with nouns (N). In addition, the familiar tree
structures of generative syntax, instead of the linear representations of standard logic, would be used to represent semantic structure.
Katz and Fodor’s incorporation of semantics into the formal theory of grammar constituted a major shift for generative linguistics.
On the other hand, the incorporation of meaning carried a danger with it for the essentials of the generative programme. If the main aim of linguistics is to identify the genetic basis of the language capacity of the human species, then meaning is not the most obvious place to start. The meanings expressed in a language are typically historically and culturally diverse.

Generativist semantics concerns the relationship between semantic and encyclopedic knowledge, or more broadly, between linguistic meaning and cognition.

They recognize, however, the act of interpretation involves the full extent of the language user’s knowledge, including his knowledge of the world rather than just his knowledge of the language. At the same time, the focus of linguistics should be on knowledge of the language, not knowledge of the world.

To illustrate the point, they observe that sentences may be disambiguated on several grounds.
Disambiguating linguistic contexts (like questions) and the socio-physical setting:

"the shooting of the hunters was terrible."

"this is the happiest night of my life." is anomalous when expressed at noon.

analyticity vs. syntheticity

"uncles are males" is an analytic truth, i.e. a truth that holds on semantic grounds.

"uncles are generous", of which the truth or falsity must be determined case by case on factual grounds.
the distinction between markers and distinguishers:

certain interpretations of a word can be excluded when they are at odds with the selection restrictions of the relevant words in the sentence. If 'ball' "in the bachelor hit the colourful ball" is interpreted in the sense of ‘dancing party’,

it violates the selection restrictions of 'hit', stipulating it cannot have abstract as its object. Thus, restrictions enable us to disambiguate ball. But Katz and Fodor admit that encyclopedic knowledge could have similar effects. Weinreich (1966) - if systematic semantic relations must be accounted for exclusively in terms of markers, and the dierence between colours happens to be a dierence between distinguishers , then the anomaly "red is green" cannot be explainedin the system of Katz and Fodor.

Anomalies suggest that the features that Katz and Fodor included as distinguishers need to be recognized as markers. But at the same time, since so many of thesedistinguishers smack of world knowledge, the strict distinction between world knowledge and encyclopedic knowledge is called into question. Decompositional or axiomatic semantics? If bachelors are necessarily unmarried, a logical truth holds stating that:
that is to say, ‘for all x, it holds that if x is a bachelor, x is not married’. These meaning postulates or ‘semantic axioms’ seemed to cause a problem for componential analysis, because they suggested a method of having a formal description of meaning that was not decompositional.

If Heleen is Ineke’s sister, then Ineke is Heleen’s sister: "sister" is a symmetrical predicate. If Pablo is taller than Line and Line is taller than Celeste, then Pablo is taller than Celeste: we say that "taller than" is a transitive predicate.

There is no complete equivalence between a decompositional and an axiomatic approach: in some form, axioms would seem to be necessary in any case. In a componential system, axioms are also used as an economical device.
If an animal is a dog, it can bark; but does that mean that spaniel, poodle, and basset each receive the feature can bark in their componential definition next to the feature dog? References Bierwisch, Manfred (1969) On certain problems of semantic representation. Foundations of Language 5: 153–84.
Fodor, Jerry A. (1970) Three reasons for not deriving kill from cause to die. Linguistic Inquiry 1: 429–38.
Janet D. Fodor, and Merrill F. Garrett (1975) The psychological unreality of semantic representations. Linguistic Inquiry 6: 515–32.
Katz, Jerrold J. (1966) The Philosophy of Language. New York: Harper & Row.
Katz, Jerrold J. (1977b) The real status of semantic representation. Linguistic Inquiry 8: 559–84
Weinreich, Uriel (1963) On the semantic structure of language. In Joseph H. Greenberg (ed.), Universals of Language, 142–216. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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