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Compositional Semantics

An Introduction to the Syntax/Semantics Interface

Pauline Jacobson

August 2014

ISBN: 9780199677153

448 pages

In Stock

Oxford Textbooks in Linguistics

Price: £24.99

This book provides an introduction to compositional semantics and to the syntax/semantics interface, combining Direct Compositionality with approaches based on Logical Form. It is intended for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in linguistics, philosophy of language, and other related fields.



This book provides an introduction to compositional semantics and to the syntax/semantics interface, adopting a Direct Compositionality view while (where appropriate) also presenting a competing view based on Logical Form and comparing the two.

  • Discusses a range of phenomena in English not generally covered by introductory books
  • Includes extensive exercises as well as open questions for students to consider
  • Provides a comparison of two main approaches to a variety of phenomena

About the Author(s)

Pauline Jacobson, Professor of Linguistic and Cognitive Science, Brown University

Pauline Jacobson is currently Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences at Brown University. She has held visiting appointments at Ohio State University and Harvard University, and has been a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her research is mainly concerned with constructing formal models of the semantics and syntax of natural language - and in particular on the way that the syntax and the semantics interact. Her work has been published in a number of journals, including Journal of Semantics, Natural Language Semantics, and Linguistics and Philosophy, and she is co-editor, with Chris Barker, of Direct Compositionality (OUP 2007).

Table of Contents

    Foreword: On using this book
    PART I Foundational Concepts: Building a Fragment
    1: Introduction
    2: Semantic Foundations
    3: Compositionality, Direct Compositionality, and the Syntax/Semantics Interface
    4: Expanding the Fragment: Syntactic Categories and Semantic Types
    5: Transitive Verbs: Resolving an Apparent Syntax/Semantics Mismatch
    6: Categorial Grammar
    7: The "Autonomy of Syntax"
    8: Adjectives, Nouns, Determiners, and More
    9: Interlude: The Semantics of Variables, and the Lambda Calculus
    Part II: Enriching the Domain
    10: Returning to English: Generalized Quantifiers
    11: Ordinary NPs and Type Lifting
    12: Generalized Conjunction
    Part III: Relative Clauses, Scopes, and Binding: Some Theoretical Controversies
    13: Relative Clauses: Sketching Two Accounts
    14: Generalized Quantifiers in Object Position: Two Approaches
    15: The Interpretation of Pronouns: Two Accounts
    Appendices to Parts I - III: The Full Fragment
    Part IV: Further Topics
    16: Negative Polarity Items, Semantic Strength, and Scalar Implicature Revisited
    17: More Binding Phenomena
    18: Additional Semantic Dimensions: The Semantics of Focus
    19: Intensionality and the Syntax/Semantics Interface


"A simple and intuitive hypothesis about the relation between form and meaning is that every principle of grammar that says something about the syntactic composition of two expressions also says something about the meaning of the resulting complex expression. This hypothesis, known as direct compositionality, can sometimes appear difficult to maintain in the face of the complexity of human language, in which structure and meaning often seem to be related in fairly abstract ways. And yet Pauline Jacobson has shown conclusively in her work over the past thirty-five years how this approach can lead to insightful analyses and significant new discoveries about the nature of meaning."

"Now Jacobson has distilled this work into a new textbook in which she skilfully leads students through the complexities of building a theory of the syntax-semantics interface from the ground up, taking direct compositionality as the guiding principle but also engaging with other perspectives on the relation between syntax and semantics and identifying points of divergence and convergence. This book masterfully equips students with the technical and formal skills that will allow them to engage with contemporary work in semantic theory." - Chris Kennedy, University of Chicago

"This is a welcome and unique addition to the growing selection of textbooks in formal semantics. With just the right mixture of empirical challenge and technical detail, it will work well as a stand-alone text for novice semanticists. At the same time, more advanced students will benefit from this accessible introduction to direct compositionality, and more broadly from the book's lessons in thinking about the foundations and architecture of linguistic theory." - Irene Heim, MIT