LINGUIST List 14.2273

Fri Aug 29 2003

Review: Linguistic Theories: Preyer & Peter, ed. (2002)

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  1. Michael Moss, Logical Form and Language

Message 1: Logical Form and Language

Date: Thu, 28 Aug 2003 23:53:44 +0000
From: Michael Moss <>
Subject: Logical Form and Language

Preyer, Gerhard and Georg Peter, ed. (2002) Logical Form and Language,
Oxford University Press

Announced at

Michael Moss, Ph.D., University of Gdansk, Department of General and
Celtic Linguistics


This book is a collection of 17 essays by 21 authors. Each article
deals with a different aspect of what Logical Form is and how it
functions together with language. Topics range from how Russellian
Logical Form can be made to deal with quantification more elegantly
(Neale, pp.13-53), to a detailed analysis of thematic roles as
absolutes in verbal arguments, to a compromise between Russellian and
Millian analyses of proper names. Although this is not an introduction
to Logical Form, each of the articles gives enough background to their
individual problems that one can follow the arguments without being a
specialist. At the same time, the articles are at a technical level
which will satisfy those who are more initiated. Furthermore, the
range of topics covered in the book gives a good overview of what kind
of work is being done in Logical Form today.

After a short introduction by the editors, the book is divided into
three section: 1. The Nature of Logical Form, 2. Intentionality Events
and Semantic Content, and 3. Logical Form, Belief Ascription and
Proper Names. Each of the articles in its own way places the study of
language and logic into the larger picture of philosophy of language
and the problem of how natural language helps us to interpret and
communicate information about the real world. Interestingly, two
topics continued to surface throughout the book, namely ''How are the
ideas communicated through language 'bound' to items in the real
world?''; and ''How do Logical Form, Semantics and Syntax interact and
where are the borders between them?'' The first of these questions is
interesting due to the fact that Binding and co-indexing are currently
out of vogue in generativist circles, and the second because of the
Minimalist Program's desire to somehow reconcile the interface between
LF and Semantics (see particularly Chomsky 2001, 2002).


This volume of essays tries to fill the role of a handbook of current
work in Logical Form. The book is quite broad in scope, which is good
for the general reader who wants to know more about current research
in Logical Form and the problems being addressed there, but perhaps
less interesting for one who is currently involved in such
research. On the other hand, each of the articles is quite technical,
making the book much more than an 'introduction to...''.

As mentioned above, the book contains 17 individual articles,
including the introduction. In the interest of length and considering
my personal areas of competence, I have chosen 4 articles to comment
on in more detail. This selection does not raise these articles above
the rest in any way, except that they were closer to my area of
research and thus it is easier for me to comment on them. I will
discuss the articles by: Fiengo and May, Higginbotham, Hornstein, and

''Identity Statements'' by Fiengo and May (pp. 169-203) investigates
the Logical Form of identity statements such as: ''Tully is Tully''
vs. ''Tully is Cicero''. The first is generally understood as a
truism, but the second is not, although intuitively the statements are
understood to be related. Frege presented two analyses of this
problem, the first says that two identity statements can have the same
reference, while the second says that identity statements present the
'same' information in two different ways (technically, that the verb
'to be' is understood to refer to objectual identity). Fiengo and May
point out that both of Frege's analyses are insightful and that their
solution to the problem will allow both to be correct. As they show,
the truism 'A is A' is 'meaningless' in the obvious
situation. However, their example ''But Max, Paderewski is
Paderewski'', where the speaker is explaining to Max that he was
mistaken in thinking that Paderewski the pianist and Paderewski the
statesman were two different people, shows that 'A is A' type
sentences can in fact be informative. They propose that if the
statesman and the pianist are perceived as two individuals, then the
statement should actually be read as ''But Max, Paderewski(1) is
Paderewski(2)'', which makes the sentence more like a statement of the
type: A=B and not A=A.

It seems that this type of interpretation has interesting implications
for co-indexing and binding theories. The indexes used here are not
part of the syntax, as co-indexing was proposed in the Government and
Binding model, but are part of the Semantics. This leads to questions
as to whether or not binding is part of the syntax or part of
semantics and whether the indexing used by the Semantic component is
visible at the level of Syntax. Perhaps 'identity' can be seen as a
feature, which would then allow it to work with the syntax for binding
purposes using an 'Agree' type mechanism.

Higginbotham in ''Why is Sequence of Tense Obligatory'' (pp. 207-227)
points out that sentences such as ''John said that Mary is pregnant''
are ambiguous as to the time when Mary was actually
pregnant. Higginbotham proposes that this is due to the fact that
Tense can be interpreted two (or more) ways similarly to ambiguous
binding relations depending on whether it is +past or -past. That is,
in Higginbotham's analysis, the event in the subordinate clause can be
both anaphoric and linked to the speaker's utterance giving the
so-called ''double-access'' sentences. I shall not criticize this
argument, but would like to comment on its value. By using Davidson's
event structure in Logical Form, and the familiar understanding of
anaphora from syntactic theory, Higginbotham is able to put forth some
interesting ideas about how Tense 'works' without falling back on
metaphysical arguments. This seems to be a significant step in the
right direction.

Next I comment on Barry Schein's extensive article ''Events and the
Semantic Content of Thematic Relations''. Here Schein attempts to
resolve the problem for Davidsonian events in 'plural' environments
such as Carnegie Hall sitting opposite the Carnegie Deli and the
Carnegie Deli sitting opposite Carnegie Hall. While the sentences give
both NPs different thematic roles depending on the grammatical
function in the sentence, the logical intuition is that both objects
can be seen to fill the same relative role in the real world. Schein
proposes that Davidson's term 'event' may be confusing and that a
better term would be 'scene' so that two individual events could be
derived from one scene. The important question here is whether
thematic roles can be seen as absolute in terms of syntactic structure
and Logical Form. Schein proposes that, in fact, they can, if the
syntax has appropriate zero morphemes located in a higher functional
projection. This is a very interesting proposal, and the article
contains a detailed discussion of prepositional phrases and their
relation to thematic roles in Logical Form.

Finally, I consider Hornstein's article ''A Grammatical Argument for a
Neo-Davidsonian Semantics''. Here, Hornstein shows that the
elimination of chains from syntactic structures ''requires'' a
Davidsonian type of logical form, which makes explicit how the
thematic roles are distributed by illustrating the relation of the
various arguments to the event. Not only does this argument reduce the
amount of syntactic machinery (by eliminating chains and replacing it
with a copy based theory), but it also gives evidence for thematic
roles being feature based, which gives them a much firmer setting in
syntactic theory.

I have commented on the above articles because they were interesting
to me personally. All of the remaining articles present their
arguments with at least as much detail and care. The scope of the book
is far-reaching, but each of the articles has enough room to give the
uninitiated reader the necessary background to understand the content.


Chomsky, Noam 2001. ''Derivation by phase''. In Michael Kenstowicz
(ed.) 2001. Ken Hale: a life in language. Cambridge Mass: MIT
Press. pp. 1-52.

Chomsky, Noam 2002. ''Beyond explanatory adequacy''. MIT Ocassional
Papers in Linguistics 19. Cambridge, Mass.:MITWPL.


I am an Adjunct Professor at the University of Gdansk. I am interested
in domains and structural relations in Generative Grammar
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