1st Semester 2023/24: Meaning: compositionality and beyond

Marieke Schouwstra

In this project we will focus on phenomena that have been prominent in language research, and that have been hard capture in a compositional semantics: 

- multimodality of language (how do we account for gesture and sign languages in a compositional way?)
- evolution of language (what is the evolutionary history of compositionality?)
- iconicity (can we account for resemblance relations between meaning and form in a compositional approach?)

We will start with a focus on Philippe Schlenker's work on SuperSemantics (Schlenker, 2018), and we will contrast this with the view recently presented by Pleyer, Lepic, and Hartmann (2022). In addition, I will present a range of empirical, analytical and computational work on iconicity, multimodality, and evolution. Together we will explore fruitful future directions for semantics: should hard-to-capture aspects of communication be explained by formal theories of meaning? If yes, how? (i.e., in the way Schlenker proposes, or are there alternatives?) If no, what are the arguments to stay away from iconicity, multimodality and evolution?  


We will spend two discussion sessions on the two papers mentioned above (week 1), subsequently I will give three lectures on 'the fringes of semantic analysis' (week 1 and 2). Then each participant chooses a topic (week 2), gives a presentation (week 3) and writes a paper (deadline end of week 4). In week 3/4 we can have individual and/or group meetings to discuss the papers. 


you can sign up for this project if you're interested in semantics, cognitive science, philosophy of language, sign/gesture, and/or evolution.


There will be a class presentation and an essay. Participation (being present in class and actively contributing to the discussions) will be taken into account too.

Schlenker, P. (2018). What is super semantics?. Philosophical Perspectives, 32(1), 365-453.

Pleyer, M., Lepic, R. & Hartmann, S. Compositionality in Different Modalities: A View from Usage-Based Linguistics. Int J Primatol (2022).


Other literature to explore

Brighton, H. (2005). Compositionality, linguistic evolution, and induction by minimum description length.

Cavicchio, F., Dachkovsky, S., Leemor, L., Shamay-Tsoory, S., & Sandler, W. (2018). Compositionality in the language of emotion. PloS one, 13(8), e0201970.

Dachkovsky, S., Stamp, R., & Sandler, W. (2018). Constructing complexity in a young sign language. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 2202.

Dingemanse, M., Blasi, D. E., Lupyan, G., Christiansen, M. H., & Monaghan, P. (2015). Arbitrariness, iconicity, and systematicity in language. Trends in cognitive sciences, 19(10), 603-615.

Emmorey, K. (2014). Iconicity as structure mapping. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological sciences, 369(1651), 20130301.

Goldberg, A. E. (2015). Compositionality. In The Routledge handbook of semantics (pp. 419-433). Taylor and Francis Inc..

Oña, L. S., Sandler, W., & Liebal, K. (2019). A stepping stone to compositionality in chimpanzee communication. PeerJ, 7, e7623.

Pelletier, F. J. (2016). Semantic compositionality. In Oxford research encyclopedia of linguistics.

Perniss, P., & Vigliocco, G. (2014). The bridge of iconicity: from a world of experience to the experience of language. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 369(1651), 20130300.

Slonimska, A., Özyürek, A., & Capirci, O. (2020). The role of iconicity and simultaneity for efficient communication: The case of Italian Sign Language (LIS). Cognition, 200, 104246.

Smith, K., & Kirby, S. (2012). Compositionality and linguistic evolution. In The Oxford handbook of compositionality.

Szabó, Z.G., Compositionality. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), 

Szabó, Z. G. (2000). Compositionality as supervenience. Linguistics and Philosophy, 475-505.

Townsend, S. W., Engesser, S., Stoll, S., Zuberbühler, K., & Bickel, B. (2018). Compositionality in animals and humans. PLoS Biology, 16(8), e2006425.