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LINGUIST List 20.1874

Sat May 16 2009

Diss: Ling Theories/Philosophy of Lang/Semantics: Underwood: '...'

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        1.    Ian Underwood, Natural Language Semantics: A naturalistic approach

Message 1: Natural Language Semantics: A naturalistic approach
Date: 15-May-2009
From: Ian Underwood <iunderwgmail.com>
Subject: Natural Language Semantics: A naturalistic approach
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Institution: University of Edinburgh
Program: School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2009

Author: Ian Underwood

Dissertation Title: Natural Language Semantics: A naturalistic approach

Dissertation URL: http://semanticsarchive.net/Archive/mExZGNkN/underwood_thesis.pdf

Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
                            Philosophy of Language

Dissertation Director:
Ronnie Cann
Josefa Toribio

Dissertation Abstract:

Within linguistics, the dominant truth-conditional approach to semantics
belongs to the Tarskian, model-theoretic tradition. Theories in this
tradition offer an abstract, mathematical description of the truth
conditions of natural language expressions in terms of their correspondence
with the world. This thesis takes issue with existing model-theoretic
accounts of quantification on the basis that the specific abstract
relations that they describe could not plausibly be models of natural
language-to-world relations.

Recent decades have seen much philosophical interest in naturalistic
theories of reference and mental content. In one sense, these theories
address the above concern by trying to identify something naturalistic for
semantic correspondence to consist in, such as causal-historical chains or
ceteris paribus laws. In another sense, they fail to address the problem,
since no account is given of either the semantic structure or the truth
conditions of even the tiniest fragment of a natural language. Crucially,
it is far from clear that model-theoretic semantics, in anything like its
present form, can accommodate the solutions proposed by naturalistic
theories of content. If correspondence truth and naturalism are both to be
retained, a new theory is needed.

I begin by arguing that the class nominalism underlying model-theoretic
semantics is unsuited to this naturalistic project, and propose that a
variant of Armstrong's realist metaphysic, incorporating Donald Baxter's
theory of aspects, provides the ideal ontology. I revise and extend
Baxter's theory for a more complete and precise account of the
instantiation of properties and relations, and show that the theory of
aspects allows for an appealing treatment of both numbers and general facts.

Against the background of this realist metaphysic, and drawing on insights
from naturalistic theories of mental content, I propose an original theory
of mentally represented semantic structures and their truth-conditional
analysis. Within this framework, I treat the core semantic phenomena of
predication, negation, conjunction, and disjunction, and devote
considerable attention to relations. I also develop a detailed theory of
quantification, which includes a fully naturalistic account of both
universal quantification and numerals.

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