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The notion that the meaning of a complex expression is a function of the meanings of its parts. The ‘Principle of Compositionality’ has played an important role in the work of a large number of philosophers and semanticists including Gottlob Frege, Donald Davidson and Richard Montague. The Principle of Compositionality is a guiding principle for many semanticists and philosophers, notably Frege, Davidson and Montague. It is sometimes referred to as ‘Frege’s Principle’, although not everyone agrees that the idea originated with him. Frege (1892) states it as follows: ‘The meaning of a complex expression is a function of the meanings of its parts and their syntactic mode of combination’. Perhaps the main reason that the principle is seen as important is the role it plays in explaining the creativity and systematicity of language. We can explain how we are able to produce and understand an infinite number of utterances if we assume that we know the meanings of individual expressions and how to combine them into larger units. It follows from this principle that the contribution of an expression, say the lexical item ‘red’, to a more complex expression should be the same in all cases. The contribution of ‘red’ should be the same in the noun phrase ‘red wool’ as in ‘red cotton’ and in any other noun phrase.W. V. O. Quine (1960) pointed out some problems with this assumption. For example, the contribution of ‘red’ in ‘red apple’ is not the same as the contribution of ‘pink’ in ‘pink grapefruit’, since a red apple is usually understood to be an apple with (mainly) red skin on the outside while a pink grapefruit is usually understood to be a grapefruit with (mainly) pink flesh on the inside. Propositional attitude* reports (utterances which contain a statement about an individual’s attitude to a proposition) provide a further test for the principle. For example, we can believe all three of the following: (1) Chris thinks his next-door neighbor is considerate. (2) Chris thinks the person who reversed into his bicycle is inconsiderate. (3) Chris’s next-door neighbour is the person who reversed into his bicycle. Despite these problems, most theorists prefer to retain the Principle of Compositionality rather than attempting to develop a new account of the productivity and systematicity of linguistic knowledge.
and this may be differentiated from the state of affairs. Thus the standard definition of knowledge is ‘justified true belief’ (Dancy 1985: 23). Bertrand Russell. Ludwig Wittgenstein and Alfred Tarski. It originates in Greek philosophy. how can they not correspond? Dictionary definitions on the notion of truth usually take up the nature of the relation between language and reality. but in general sentences are interpreted as expressing facts of some kind. Correspondence theory is the most prominent of several theories trying to solve the problem of what truth is. it is also commonly recognised that the nature of this relation is the source of much controversy. if ‘sentence meaning’ and ‘fact’ are the same thing. Although it is commonly accepted that some idea of correspondence is a necessary requirement in truth theory*. So. One modern way of formulating the correspondence theory solution is to say that a sentence (a proposition) is true iff (if and only if) it corresponds to some fact. specifically in the work of Aristotle. it must be true (see Popper 1963: 215–50). ‘truth is the correspondence of knowledge with its object’ (Kant 1781/1787. ‘fact’ and ‘state of affairs’ respectively. For many people outside philosophy. Some term for the concept of relation seems inescapable and so it is in modern epistemology and philosophy of science. It was later a principle in Immanuel Kant’s philosophy. including linguists and lay-persons. But can ‘sentence meaning’ be separated from ‘fact’? Some sentences – for example. Kant expressed the correspondence principle in the most transparent way: ‘Wahrheit ist die Übereinstimmung der Erkenntnis mit ihrem Gegenstand’. But whether what they say is true or false. meaning that there must be a relation between beliefs and what the beliefs are about. and appears in the medieval period in the work of Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham. 1924/1927: 992). Moore.CORRESPONDENCE THEORY A theory that tries to solve the problem of what constitutes truth as a property of sentences by claiming that there is a relation of correspondence between the meaning of true sentences and the way the world is at a certain place and time. which seems to be what is out there. and its contemporary version is mostly influenced by G. while Tarski offered a technical and rather complicated clarification of the correspondence relation based on predicate logic*. what is the difference between the meaning of a sentence and the facts that it conveys? In other words. we need the concept of truth because without it we would not be able to describe what happens in the world. or iff it corresponds to some state of affairs. ‘Open the window’ – do not express facts. If scientific knowledge is to count as trustworthy. Intuitively we would say that the truth of a sentence has to do with the meaning of the sentence. It is not hard to see the problem: in order to appreciate the notion of correspondence one has to grasp the notions of ‘sentence’. in reality. even though he did not consider it a problem. E. there must be an agreement between what science says and how things happen out there. the correspondence solution seems intuitively correct: in our daily lives we have to assume that there is a relation between what people say and the things they talk about. if a sentence meaning conveys true information. .
referring to the ability of human beings to innovate within the lexico-semantic domain. Speakers. B. Universal Grammar Key Thinkers: Chomsky. Skinner. Descartes. jokes and the like. writers and poets can use the elements of their language to draw attention to surprising and interesting aspects of the world through metaphor*. it is claimed that this creativity points to the central place of language in the study of human nature. As associated most recently with Noam Chomsky (though with ultimate roots in Cartesian rationalism). . but rather to the ordinary use of language by everyday speakers. Wilhelm von. René. which applies not to the activities of gifted individuals. there is another. most commonly attributed in the modern era to Chomsky.CREATIVITY The ability of the ordinary use of language to be innovative and free from stimulus control. However. Noam. In one sense. Metaphor. linguistic creativity has a narrow meaning. F. broader sense of linguistic creativity. This creativity underlines the fundamental role that language plays in understanding the essential nature of human beings and is often referred to by Chomsky as ‘the creative aspect of language use’. Humboldt. See also: Behaviourism.
. and one which connects Chomsky’s work to the earlier rationalist traditions of Wilhelm von Humboldt and René Descartes is the observation that human beings can produce (and understand with no sense of novelty) an infinite number of sentences which may be new in their experience or even new in the history of the language. Although metaphysical dualism no longer forms part of standard scientific assumptions. Chomsky (1966) notes that this freedom from stimulus control was one of the Cartesian arguments for the existence of mind. human linguistic capacities provided evidence for the existence of a second substance ‘mind’ (as distinct from mere ‘body’). Machines. a speaker could have just as easily responded ‘It’s tilted’. human language use is also creative in the sense of being free from identifiable stimulus control. we are studying one of the foundations on which our humanity rests. A traditional behaviourist account of the response ‘Dutch’ to a painting on the wall would be to say that the speaker was under the stimulus control of the painting’s ‘Dutchness’. but it is not caused by it. like human thought and action more generally. these observations regarding linguistic creativity nonetheless do suggest that. as Chomsky observes. It is appropriate to a situation. once the internal arrangement of the parts and the external conditions are specified. in studying language. and forms part of the key motivation for universal grammar*. Therefore. However. human linguistic behaviour.The most general aspect of creativity in this broad sense. behave in a completely predictable manner (or randomly). ‘I thought you liked abstracts’ or an infinite number of other things. according to the Cartesians. However. transcends simple ‘mechanical’ explanation. As noted in some detail by Chomsky (1959). This creativity is thus intimately connected with the ‘generative’ nature of generative grammar.
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