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ProtoSociology

Volume 22, 2006

Compositionality, Concepts and Representations II

Anne Bezuidenhout
Pages 140-168
DOI: 10.5840/protosociology20062225

VP-Ellipsis and the Case for Representationalism in Semantics

The debate between representationalists and anti-representationalists in semantics is a debate about whether truth-conditions are or should be assigned directly to natural language sentences (NLSs) – the anti-representationalist view – or whether they are or should be assigned instead to mental representations (MRs) that are related to NLSs in virtue of the fact that the MRs are the output of an interpretive process that has as its input both representations of the lexico-syntactic structure of the NLSs and relevant non-linguistic assumptions that are accessible in the conversational context. I examine some recent work on VP-ellipsis with the aim of showing that discourse level factors play a crucial role in the ellipsis construal process and showing why a syntactic account that requires VP-identity is inadequate. I briefly sketch some views about the mechanisms involved in ellipsis construal. Views that posit operations on representations at the level of discourse structure are best placed to account for the range of evidence presented. Moreover, these accounts support a representationalist conception of natural language semantics, according to which NLSs are not themselves the objects that are assigned a denotational semantics, but rather are vehicles that project partial structures that are the input to inferential processes whose output are structures that can be assigned such a denotational semantics.

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