Volume 21, 2005
Compositionality, Concepts and Representations I
On the Problem of Unspeakable Content
There is compelling linguistic evidence that many words (e.g., boil) are derived from phrasal sources (e.g., cause to boil). Among causation, typical semantic primitives composing word meanings are becoming, having and getting. While linguists have argued that word meanings contain semantic knowledge that we can grasp but cannot express linguistically, Fodor and his colleagues maintain that words express primitive, semantically unanalysable concepts. Under this view, putative linguistic semantic decompositions express nonsemantic metaphysical regularities. After reviewing the debate, it is suggested in this article that semantic features that are linguistically salient and unspeakable emerge neither from the analytical connections between words, nor from the metaphysical structure of the world, but from the logical syntax of the grammar.