LINGUIST List 13.3273

Wed Dec 11 2002

Review: Semantics: Lepore (2000)

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  1. Alice G.B. ter Meulen, Lepore (2000), Meaning and Argument

Message 1: Lepore (2000), Meaning and Argument

Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2002 13:17:17 +0000
From: Alice G.B. ter Meulen <atmlet.rug.nl>
Subject: Lepore (2000), Meaning and Argument

Lepore Ernest (2000). 
Meaning and Argument. An introduction to logic through language.
Blackwell Publishers, 418pp,Hardback,0631205810,70.95,418,P
aperback,0631205829,33.95

Book Announcement on Linguist:
http://linguistlist.org/get-book.html?BookID=3030


Alice G.B. ter Meulen, 
Center for Language and Cognition, University of Groningen, NL

This first introduction to logic, written by a renowned philosopher on
the faculty of Rutgers University, caters to a general audience of
undergraduate students with no special background in mathematics or
computation, nor in linguistics. The comprehensive textbook consists
of 17 chapters and an appendix (55 pp.) offering many interesting
insights into the relation between linguistic structure and logical
form, as well as a very useful, exhaustive list of answers to the
exercises. For linguists, the appendix may well present the most
interesting part of the book, as it discusses the need for event
arguments, the semantics of adverbs, anaphora, comparison and
alternative semantics of conditionals, conjunction, negation and
relative clauses.

The main tenet of the author is the claim (p. 39) that translating
ordinary English to truth-conditional logical formulas often requires
thoughtful reflection on possible meanings in context, which will
never be reducible to a mere matter of automatically applying
computational algorithms. Although this categorical statement as such
may not be controversial, it could have served the intended audience
if references had been included to the semantics of natural language,
in spite of its limitations to only smaller fragments of English. The
index mentions logicians of historical repute as Quine, Russell and
Carroll, though Donald Davidson is absent, surprisingly so, given his
formative influence over the author, admitted in the acknowledgements
(p. xiv). Given the subtitle of this book, it is truly regrettable
that no systematic references are provided to more contemporary
logicians and the semantics of natural language in the wake of Richard
Montague�Euro(tm)s pioneering research in the early 1970s, though
references at the end of some chapters do include a few selected
papers by contemporary semanticists. Early on the student is made
aware of the important distinction between conversational inference,
which is non-monotonic, i.e. cancellable when information is added,
and monotonic, non-cancellable logical deductions, including
analytically necessary truths. Accordingly, the chapters on the logic
of statements (propositional logic) pay lots of attention to detecting
deductive arguments in actual English texts, while developing truth
tables and the nice tree style presentation of tableau techniques,
which often appeals to students and trains their analytic insights
considerably.

Linguists may find that sometimes odd views are proclaimed: only NPs
can be the subject of sentences (p. 20), dismissing clausal subjects
as in viro~That John smokes bothers Maryviro(tm), and the really
misleading claim that viro~is a dogviro(tm) is a common noun, and
�Euro~is brown�Euro(tm) an adjective (p. 135). Property predicates are
defined as the result of omitting a singular term from a statement
(p. 135), but this is later not generalised to allow for quantified
statements. In fact, variables are not introduced until binary
relational predicates are (p. 198). Lepore�Euro(tm)s language of
monadic predicate logic is at first unusually limited without
variables, although individual constants are admitted, but with
superscripts indicating the number of arguments a predicate
requires. Accordingly, �Euro~John drinks water�Euro(tm) is translated
to D1j , whereas �Euro~Someone drinks water�Euro(tm) is symbolized as
$D1 and �Euro~Everybody drinks water�Euro(tm) (p. 181) as ''(P1 �Euro�
D1 ). This logic at once confusingly indicates argument structure,
but does not analyze object NPs, departing radically from linguistic
syntactic structure, and it makes monadic predicates syntactically
ambiguous. As teacher of logic classes you would like to have seen a
justification of this peculiar choice of notation, intended perhaps as
a simplification serving a pedagogical purpose. Another matter of
considerable importance to linguists is the issue whether indefinite
NPs are referential or quantificational. Although it certainly is
commendable that this book addresses it so explicitly, and offers an
account of unselective binding, the arguments adduced to convince the
reader that they are quantificational are shaky at best. Lepore claims
(p. 138) that �Euro~something�Euro(tm) is quantificational because the
two statements �Euro~something is a dog�Euro(tm) and �Euro~something
is not a dog�Euro(tm) do not constitute a contradiction, as they
would, had their subjects been singular referring terms. The student
must be puzzled when this argument would lead one to conclude
erroneously that universal quantifiers, introduced on the following
page, must hence also be referential. But then a more convincing test
is presented, appealing to the fact that universal quantifiers cannot
be referential like singular terms, since they cannot be substituted
for reflexive pronouns, salve veritate. This would have been a
natural point to introduce variables as contextual names or
symbolization of deictic pronouns, but for this to happen the student
must live with this at best awkward logical language for another 54
pages. The semantic notion of a variable assignment function and a
proper definition of truth and satisfaction are regrettably beyond the
scope of this introductory textbook.

The key advantage of this book over other logic textbooks resides it
its appendix, where Lepore shows remarkable breadth and awareness of
linguistic research. He presents interesting analyses of comparatives,
inviting the student to reflect on a choice between a pragmatic
account where uniqueness of definite descriptions with superlatives is
not required and a semantic one which does require uniqueness. His
discussion of gerunds and infinitives, different kinds of adjectives,
bare infinitives in perception reports, and non standard quantifiers
present some important developments of the semantics of natural
language that have taken place over the past 40 years. It would have
been appropriate here to include the proper references to the original
sources.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Alice ter Meulen is the co-author of Mathematical Methods in
Linguistics (Partee, ter Meulen and Wall, Studies in Linguistics and
Philosophy, Kluwer Academic Publ. 1990). She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy
of Language from Stanford University (1980), is currently working on
the dynamic semantics of tense, aspect and temporal reasoning, and is
appointed as chair of English Linguistics at the University of
Groningen, the Netherlands and research member of the Center for
Language and Cognitiono
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