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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Kratzer on Situation Semantics

I followed Kai von Fintel's brilliant advice and read Angelika Kratzer's new entry on situation semantics in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It is indeed a very nice survey of the literature on situation semantics. Along the way, Kratzer offers replies to historically important objections to situation semantics, for example, Soames' arguments from attributive uses of definite descriptions and mid-sentence domain shifts, which he offered back in the mid-80s. She also offers arguments for thinking that natural language quantifies over situations. Consider, for instance, the following sentences (from Kratzer):

(1) If, whenever it snowed, it had snowed much more than it actually did, the town plow would have removed the snow for us.

(2) Whenever it snowed, some local person dreamed that it snowed more than it actually did, and that the local weather channel erroneously reported that it had snowed less, but still more than it snowed in reality.

Kratzer thinks that examples like (1) and (2) indicate that "natural languages have the full power of object language quantification over situations" (p. 15).

Since the 80s situation semantics has not been overly popular among philosophers of language. But Kratzer's piece gives us a good reason to think that it should be.


Shawn said...

There are a couple of books in Kratzer's bibliography that also lend support to the claim that situation semantics deserves another look. Check out Gawron and Peter's Anaphora and Quantification in Situation Semantics and Ginzburg and Sag's Interrogative Investigations. The Gawron and Peter's book shows how John Perry's notion of a role can account for a good amount of natural language anaphora that is otherwise difficult to explain. The Ginzburg and Sag book gives a comprehensive and original semantics for questions beyond yes/no questions. Both are technically demanding but reward the effort.

Brit said...

Thanks for references, Shawn!