Portner, Paul and Barbara H. Partee, ed. (2002) Formal Semantics: The Essential Readings. Blackwell, x+486pp, paperback ISBN 0-631-21542-5, $39.95, Linguistics: The Essential Readings 2.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-827.html
Judith Tonhauser, Department of Linguistics, Stanford University.
''Formal Semantics: The Essential Readings'' (edited by Paul Portner and Barbara H. Partee) is a collection of 19 seminal papers that have shaped the field of formal semantics in linguistics. The collection traces the early developments of truth-conditional model-theoretic semantics, beginning with Montague (1973) ''The Proper Treatment of Quantification in Ordinary English''. The year 1989 marks the end of the collection with Groenendijk & Stokhof's ''Type-shifting Rules and the Semantics of Interrogatives''. All the papers in the collection are reproduced in their original form and the collection features an index. (A complete list of the papers is given below together with the year in which each was first published.)
In the Introduction (pp 1-16), the editors present an overview of the early development of formal semantics, which was shaped by the work of linguists, philosophers and logicians. Richard Montague was among those who developed the idea that the techniques that were used in the analysis of artificial formal languages could be applied to the study of meaning of natural languages. His work, especially Montague (1973), was highly influential in the development of formal semantics and marks the beginning of Montague Grammar, which even today is still the most influential framework of formal semantics. (It is otherwise only available in an out-of-print collection of his works (Montague (1974).)
The importance of Montague Grammar during the early years of formal semantics is manifested in the collection by the papers of Carlson (''A Unified Analysis of the English Bare Plural'', 1977), Dowty (''Toward a Semantic Analysis of Verb Aspect and the English ''Imperfective'' Progressive'', 1977) and Karttunen (''Syntax and Semantics of Questions'', 1977). The phenomena discussed in these papers have benefited from a formal analysis within Montague Grammar.
The development of formal pragmatics paralleled the development of formal semantics and the two movements often influenced one another. In this collection, Stalnaker (''Assertion'', 1978) and Lewis (''Adverbs of Quantification'', 1975; ''Scorekeeping in a Language Game'', 1979) represent the many authors who have contributed to both formal pragmatics and formal semantics. Lewis and Stalnaker are concerned with the role of context in interpreting natural language expressions or discourses. As such, the work of these authors was highly influential for the development of Dynamic Semantics, a theory of formal semantics which attempts to capture the meaning of natural language expressions in terms of their conditions on the context as well as their potential to alter the context. Dynamic Semantics was developed independently by Hans Kamp and Irene Heim; its beginnings are represented in the collection by Kamp's ''A Theory of Truth and Semantic Representation'' (1981) and Heim's ''File Change Semantics and the Familiarity Theory of Definiteness'' (1983a) and ''On the Projection Problem for Presuppositions'' (1983b).
Parallel to the development of dynamic semantics in the 1980s, the diversification of phenomena that formal semanticists were studying led to innovations in the model-theoretic structures in which their analyses were articulated. In the collection, Ladusaw (''On the Notion ''Affective'' in the Analysis of Negative-polarity Items'', 1980), Link (''The Logical Analysis of Plurals and Mass Terms'', 1983), Bach (''The Algebra of Events'', 1986) and Kratzer (''The Notional Category of Modality'', 1981) represent such works. Ladusaw, for instance, enriches formal semantics with monotone functions, and Link constructs an ontology of plurals and mass terms based on lattice theory.
The integration of a theory of formal semantics within a theory of grammar, including syntax, raises important questions regarding the conception of the various components of grammar (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics) as well as their interfaces. In the collection, Partee & Rooth (''Generalized Conjunction and Type Ambiguity'', 1983) and Partee (''Noun Phrase Interpretation and Type Shifting Principles'', 1986) represent a line of work which integrates formal semantics within the Chomskyan approach to syntax which has been dominant in the field of linguistics since the early 1960s.
Besides their historical importance, the 19 articles in the collection also cover a variety of topics: Noun Phrase semantics (Montague (1973), Carlson (1977), Barwise & Cooper (1981), Link (1981)), semantics of the auxiliary/inflectional system, i.e., tense/aspect/modality (Dowty (1977), Kratzer (1981), Bach (1986)), context/philosophical pragmatics (Stalnaker (1978), Lewis (1975, 1979)), questions (Karttunen (1977), Groenendijk & Stokhof (1989)) and negative polarity (Ladusaw (1980)).
The following is a complete list of articles in the collection:
1. The Proper Treatment of Quantification in Ordinary English: Richard Montague. (1973) 2. A Unified Analysis of the English Bare Plural: Greg N. Carlson. (1977) 3. Generalized Quantifiers and Natural Language: Jon Barwise and Robin Cooper. (1981) 4. The Logical Analysis of Plurals and Mass Terms: A Lattice-theoretical Approach: Godehard Link. (1981) 5. Assertion: Robert C. Stalnaker. (1978) 6. Scorekeeping in a Language Game: David Lewis. (1979) 7. Adverbs of Quantification: David Lewis. (1975) 8. A Theory of Truth and Semantic Representation: Hans Kamp. (1981) 9. File Change Semantics and the Familiarity Theory of Definiteness: Irene Heim. (1983a) 10. On the Projection Problem for Presuppositions: Irene Heim. (1983b) 11. Toward a Semantic Analysis of Verb Aspect and the English ''Imperfective'' Progressive: David R. Dowty. (1977) 12. The Notional Category of Modality: Angelika Kratzer. (1981) 13. The Algebra of Events: Emmon Bach. (1986) 14. Generalized Conjunction and Type Ambiguity: Barbara H. Partee and Mats Rooth. (1983) 15. Noun Phrase Interpretation and Type Shifting Principles: Barbara H. Partee. (1986) 16. Syntax and Semantics of Questions: Lauri Karttunen. (1977) 17. Type-shifting Rules and the Semantics of Interrogatives: Jeroen Groenendijk and Martin Stokhof. (1989) 18. On the Notion ''Affective'' in the Analysis of Negative-polarity Items: William A. Ladusaw. (1980)
This collection is a distillation of the finest research of the early years of formal semantics. Many of the papers in this collection are rather formal, which renders the collection unsuitable as an introduction to formal semantics, but in the Introduction, the editors promote the collection as suitable for serving ''both as a reader for graduate-level semantics courses and as a reference collection for researchers in semantics and related fields'', and I entirely agree. Each of the papers selected for the collection is valuable reading, and the collection presents a well-balanced selection of papers from a number of topics and early research directions. The collection can be recommended to people who have only recently become interested in formal semantics and want to learn about who and what shaped the field. The collection is also valuable because many of the papers are still highly influential in a number of areas of contemporary semantic research.
However, the collection would have been even more valuable in this respect if the Introduction had presented a clearer picture as to how these ''classics'' relate to contemporary semantic research. There is very little mention of current research directions in the Introduction. Since a ''classic'' only becomes such in the context of contemporary research which acknowledges the impact the paper has had on the field, I think the collection would have benefited if the authors had not only mentioned ''influence on the field'' as a selection criterion but also had been more elaborate about current lines of research for which one (or more) of the papers in the collection are ''essential readings''. Given that this (hefty) collection consists of over 400 pages of insights into the early development of formal semantics, a 16-page introduction (6 pages of which are references) seems rather slight. Similarly, although the Introduction places the selected articles in the historical context in which formal semantics developed, the Introduction could have been more detailed in its description and discussion of the various developments that the field took during those years and that resulted in the ideas and insights of the selected papers.
Besides a paper's influence on the field, the editors selected papers by length (longer works like dissertations were excluded since the editors wanted to reproduce only complete works), by variety and by accessibility. The editors mention that, because of the existence of anthologies of the philosophy of language (like Martinich (2000)), the collection is tilted toward the linguistic side of the foundations of formal semantics. In the Introduction, Partee and Portner mention quite a number of papers and authors whose work was of equal importance as that of the authors selected. These mentions can serve as pointers for further reading on the particular topics or periods.
A final note concerns the citation year of Hans Kamp's ''A Theory of Truth and Semantic Representation'': it was first published in 1981 and is hence typically cited as Kamp (1981). The editors of this collection, however, cite the paper as Kamp (1984), which refers to a later re-printing of the paper.
I strongly recommend the collection to graduate students and other researchers in formal semantics. I also hope the collection is such a success that Blackwell will consider publishing a second volume with later ''classics'', including coverages of topics like cross-linguistic semantics, underspecification, and formal semantics in non-Chomskyan grammar frameworks.
Martinich A.P. (ed.) 2000. The Philosophy of Language. 4th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Montague, R. 1974. Formal Philosophy. Selected Papers of Richard Montague, edited and with an introduction by R. Thomason. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press..
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Judith Tonhauser is a PhD student in Linguistics at Stanford University. She holds an MA in (computational) linguistics from the University of Stuttgart. Her interests lie in formal syntax and semantics, Mayan linguistics and computational linguistics. In formal semantics, she has worked on polarity sensitivity and the temporal interpretation of noun phrases. Recently, she has done fieldwork on Yucatec Maya in Mexico and she is currently working on the syntax and semantics of Yucatec Mayan focus constructions