semantics.S18.pdf - LING 1010 Language and Mind Prof Jon...

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02/07/18 Semantics LING 1010 Language and Mind Prof. Jon Gajewski
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sound meaning words John bought a car NP VP S sentences speech sounds meanings un believ able λ x.dog(x)(sparky) The Language Faculty is a way of referring to all of the cognitive abilities that give rise to language in humans. But more specifically, it is the set of abilities that allows us to convert from physical signals like sound (or visual signs) to thoughts.
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Information Language is informative . We can use it to talk about the world around us. We can tell others about our own internal states or about our shared environment. We can collect very detailed information about the world through our senses and put it into someone else’s head. They can know something about the world that they have not experienced themselves! We perform this amazing feat all the time in everyday activities such as giving directions or warnings, following recipes, planning trips, and describing events.
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Information This ability to share information through language is one of the things that has given humans a huge competitive advantage over other animals that may be bigger, stronger or faster. BIG QUESTION : what properties of the language faculty allow us to reliably convey information about the world to one another?
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Reference We are able to accomplish these feats because there are regular and systematic correspondences between the world and the structures of language (morphemes, words, phrases, sentences). For example, proper names stand in an important relation to the bearers of those names. At some point, a language community agrees on a name for an individual. This agreement could be informal or legal (birth certificate). After such a ceremony, the proper name refers to the individual it has been given to. That person is the reference of the name. Reference then is an example of a systematic correspondence between expressions of language and the world.
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Truth Sentences are more complex linguistic objects, but also bear a systematic correspondence with our shared environment. Obviously sentences do not refer to individuals. Instead sentences stand in a relation to the world that depends on whether or not the meaning of the sentence accurately reflects a state of affairs in the world. If it does, we say the sentence is true . If not, we say it is false . Any competent speaker of English can tell you that the sentence below is true in one scenario and false in the other. The kitten is in the box. True! False!
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Truth Conditions What underlies this ability is a subcomponent of the language faculty that assigns truth conditions to (declarative) sentences. A truth condition is a statement like this: The kitten is in the box” is true if and only if the kitten is in the box A truth condition gives you necessary and sufficient conditions for the truth of a sentence.
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  • Spring '09
  • Wurmbrand
  • Semantics, Necessary and sufficient condition, Language Faculty

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