This book argues that languages are composed of sets of ‘signs’, rather than
‘strings’. This notion, first posited by de Saussure in the early 20th century, has
for decades been neglected by linguists, particularly following Chomsky’s heavy
critiques of the 1950s. Yet since the emergence of formal semantics in the
1970s, the issue of compositionality has gained traction in the theoretical
debate, becoming a selling point for linguistic theories.
Yet the concept of ‘compositionality’ itself remains ill-defined, an issue this
book addresses. Positioning compositionality as a cornerstone in linguistic
theory, it argues that, contrary to widely held beliefs, there exist non-
compositional languages, which shows that the concept of compositionality has
empirical content. The author asserts that the existence of syntactic structure
can flow from the fact that a compositional grammar cannot be delivered without
prior agreement on the syntactic structure of the constituents.