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[ontolog-forum] Barbara Partee on Formal Semantics

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From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 28 Oct 2014 11:54:19 -0400
Message-id: <544FBC2B.5040208@xxxxxxxxxxx>
I came across a 52-page review of the development of formal
semantics, which Barbara Partee published in 2011.  See below
for the URL and a copy of the concluding paragraph.    (01)

Barbara earned a PhD at MIT (Chomsky as thesis adviser) and
began teaching linguistics at UCLA, where she joined Richard
Montague and Hans Kamp in pioneering work in combining formal
semantics with the complexity of NLs.  This review is a history
of the field by one of the leading developers and promoters.    (02)

My major criticism is about the size of the "grain of truth"
by which she minimizes George Lakoff's criticisms.  I have
a high regard for both Barbara and George.  Both of them were
graduate students of Chomsky's around the same time, and they
both have important points to make (although I prefer Barbara's
style to George's sometimes excessive hyperbole).    (03)

My very short critique is that Barbara and George are equally
correct about the aspects of language they emphasize, and
equally wrong about the aspects of the other that they dismiss
or minimize.  There is, of course, much more that could be said.    (04)

______________________________________________________________    (05)

http://newprairiepress.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1056&context=biyclc    (06)

                 by Barbara H. Partee    (07)

[Concluding paragraph]    (08)

I should note a criticism that comes from Lakoff and other “Cognitive
Linguists”: formal semanticists don’t work on metaphor, because
formal semantics is inadequate for dealing with metaphor, and deals
only with ’easy’ parts of natural language. There is probably a grain
of truth to this, and it is undoubtedly connected with the relative
narrowness of treatments of lexical meaning within formal semantics. 
(Formal semanticists have a great deal to say about the semantics of
“logical words”, and about aspects of the semantics of open-class words
that impinge directly on their contribution to compositional meaning,
but very little to say about what distinguishes the meanings of open-
class words whose more ‘formal’ properties are alike.) I don’t believe
that formal semantics will ever account for ‘all of meaning’. But I
believe that it does very well at accounting for the truth-conditional
core of literal meaning, which is not handled in any explicit way
within Cognitive Linguistics. And we’re getting better at solving
problems, and there is progress on semantic issues in language
typology, language history, language acquisition, pragmatics and
discourse, computational linguistic applications, and more. And as
the field has made progress, new questions have opened up. I have
really not said anything about the work of the last thirty years,
and it is that work by which the fruitfulness of the field can best
be judged.    (09)

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