Compositionality and Context

Tim Fernando and Dag Westerståhl
Section: Language and Logic
Level: Advanced


This course aims to assess the principle of compositionality (CP) and how it fits with recent developments in natural language interpretation, especially those that stress the role of context. We first try to lay down a suitable formal framework for CP, reviewing proposals by Montague, Janssen, Hendriks, Kracht and Hodges. Versions of CP of varying strength are formulated, and some recent results on the existence of compositional semantics and the (much debated) issue of the empirical import of CP discussed. Complementing CP is the notion of context which, under modern (e.g. "dynamic") conceptions, not only conditions interpretation but also is transformed during interpretation. The tension between CP and context is examined relative to problems of anaphora, presupposition, idioms and ambiguity. A somewhat un-orthodox computational application of CP is suggested, emphasizing co-inductive aspects of interpretation that cut across the divide between model-theoretic and proof-theoretic approaches, and between procedural and declarative styles.


Some mathematical maturity, and basic familiarity with formal semantics.



Tim Fernando
Computer Science Dept.
Trinity College
Dublin 2, Ireland
phone: 353 1 608 1542

Dag Westerståhl
Dept. of Philosophy
Goteborg University, Box 200
405 30 Goteborg, Sweden
phone: 46 (0)31 773 45 73
fax: 46 (0)31 773 49 45