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Volume 21, 2005

Compositionality, Concepts and Representations I

Alberto Peruzzi
Pages 41-66

Compositionality up to Parameters

The principle of compositionality (PC) claims that the meaning of a compound expression is determined by the meanings of its constituent expressions and the way they compose. Is it true or false? Does it apply to both natural and formalised languages? In order to answer, we must examine various formal versions of PC, the notion of meaning and the patterns of composition. Moreover, further principles are called for to determine its import and, in particular, its relationships with the Context Principle, which seems to be inconsistent with PC. The paper deals with some aspects of the issues involved, by considering both empirical and model-theoretic results on compositionality obtained in recent years. The main thesis is that only if the parametric form of PC is acknowledged, the above questions can receive a definite answer. To this aim, the paper makes the conditions for the consistency of PC with context-dependence explicit. Such conditions allow for the stability of a schematic conceptual/epistemic core, in contrast with the slippery slope leading to holistic pragmatism.

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