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Volume 10, 1997

Cognitive Semantics I

Kirk Ludwig
Pages 19-66
DOI: 10.5840/protosociology1997102

The Truth about Moods

Assertoric sentences are sentences which admit of truth or falsity. Non-assertoric sentences, imperatives and interrogatives, have long been a source of difficulty for the view that a theory of truth for a natural language can serve as the core of a theory of meaning. The trouble for truth-theoretic semantics posed by non-assertoric sentences is that, prima facie, it does not make sense to say that imperatives, such as ‘Cut your hair’ or interrogatives such as ‘What time is it?’ are true or false. Thus, the vehicle for giving the meaning of a sentence by using an interpretive truth theory, the T-sentence, is apparently unavailable for non-assertoric sentences. This paper shows how to incorporate non-assertoric sentences into a theory of meaning that gives central place to an interpretive truth theory for the language, without, however, reducing the nonassertorics to assertorics or treating their utterances as semantically equivalent to one or more utterances of assertoric sentences. Four proposals for how to incorporate non-assertoric sentences into a broadly truth-theoretical semantics are reviewed. The proposals fall into two classes, those that attempt to explain the meaning of non-assertoric sentences solely by appeal to truth conditions, and those that attempt to explain the meaning of non-assertoric sentences by appeal to compliance conditions, which can be treated as one variety of fulfillment conditions for sentences of which truth conditions are another variety. The paper argues that none of the extant approaches is successful, but develops a version of the generalized fulfillment approach which avoids the difficulties of previous approaches and still exhibits a truth theory as the central component of a compositional meaning theory for all sentences of natural languages.