Cremers colloquium

October 9
Harper 140
Leiden University
Meaning denies structure, so grammar is incomplete
Referring to the (tedious) construction of an operational grammar-and-meaning-driven parser and generator for Dutch (Cremers, Hijzelendoorn and Reckman 2014), this talk defends the following conjecture:
if a grammar is a formal system, dealing with constituents and entailments, and if constituents and entailments are empirical objects, a functional relation between constituents and entailments cannot exist. 
In particular,  I will argue that theorems of the form  this structured sentence entails that structured sentence can neither be verified by unification (of signs) nor by composition (of meanings). Constituents and entailments live by different algebras. This state of affairs reflects the nature of the grammar’s incompleteness as a formal system. As such, this form of incompleteness is an asset, rather than a weakness of formal grammar and of every grammatical model that takes both syntax and semantics serious. In serious grammar, a full functional route from structure to meaning or back is not available. Either we stick with underspecification of meaning, giving up full interpretation,  or we have to leave the idea that full interpretation can be modelled compositionally. Good syntax cannot buy us deep interpretation, nor the other way around - no matter whether the syntax is Bayesian or symbolic. At the end of the day, we need (lexical) oracles to get the semantics right, since serious interpretation denies valid structure.  These lexical receipts are complex reflections on particular interaction between constituents and entailments. An exemplary lexical oracle providing the semantics of exception-sentences will be presented. In the same vain, it is argued that constructing well-formed sentences from full meanings requires ingenious engineering beyond syntactic and semantic values.
Cremers, C., M. Hijzelendoorn and H. Reckman. Meaning versus Grammar. An Inquiry into the computability of Meaning and the Incompleteness of Grammar. Leiden UP & Chicago UP. 2014.