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Sentential semantics
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Philosophy.
Number of Authors: 12016 (English)In: Cambridge Handbook of Formal Semantics / [ed] Maria Aloni, Paul Dekker, Cambridge University Press, 2016, p. 65-105Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Sentences and sentence meaning

There are three basic conceptions of a sentence: syntactic, semantic and pragmatic (Stainton, 2000). According to the syntactic conception, a sentence is an expression with certain grammatical properties, as specified in a grammar. According to the semantic conception, a sentence is an expression with a certain type of meaning, for instance a sentence expressing a proposition, something that is true or false (with respect to the actual world). According to the pragmatic conception, a sentence is an expression with a certain kind of use, typically that of making a speech act.

These three conceptions are naturally enough pretty well correlated. Speakers of natural languages typically use sentences in the grammatical sense for making speech acts and expressing propositional thoughts by means of the sentence meaning. Nevertheless, in many cases they come apart. On the one hand, speakers often use sub-sentential expressions, such as ‘Reserved for tonight’, pointing to a chair (Stainton, 2000, p. 446), for making a speech act.

On the other hand, very often, what is a grammatical sentence does not have a meaning that is simply a propositional content in an ordinary sense. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as indexicality, presupposition, conventional implicature, discourse phenomena, interrogative mood.

In this chapter, we shall be concerned with sentences in the syntactic sense, and we shall look at how semantic theories of various types model sentence meaning. In some cases we will also consider their philosophical motivations. The topic will be delimited in certain ways. We shall only discuss declarative sentences (see Dekker et al., Chapter 19, and Portner, Chapter 20 for chapters on non-declaratives). We shall also not cover dynamic phenomena in discourse semantics (see Asher, Chapter 4). We are also not going to discuss presupposition and similar phenomena in the semantic/pragmatics interface (see Schlenker, Chapter 22). We shall be concerned with semantic context dependence and related phenomena.

One of the key features of the syntactic conception of a sentence is that sentences are syntactically (or morphosyntactically) complex. Since they result from combining linguistic elements, there is a question of how the meaning of the sentence is related to the meanings of its parts and the way they are combined.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Cambridge University Press, 2016. p. 65-105
Series
Cambridge Handbooks in Language and Linguistics
National Category
Languages and Literature
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-137638DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139236157.004ISI: 000388394200004ISBN: 9781139236157 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-137638DiVA, id: diva2:1063648
Available from: 2017-01-10 Created: 2017-01-09 Last updated: 2017-09-13Bibliographically approved

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