The Structure of Semantic Competence: Compositionality as an Innate Constraint of the Faculty of Language

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This article defends the view that the Faculty of Language is compositional; namely, that it computes the meaning of complex expressions from the meanings of their immediate constituents. I first argue that compositionality and other competing, non-compositional constraints on the ways in which we compute the meanings of complex expressions should be understood as hypotheses about the innate constrains of the semantic operations of the Faculty of Language. I then argue that, unlike compositionality, most of the currently available non-compositional constraints predict incorrect patterns of early linguistic development. This supports the view that the Faculty of Language is compositional. More generally, this article proposes a way of reframing the compositionality debate which, by focusing on its implications for language acquisition, opens what has so far been a mainly theoretical debate to a more straightforward empirical resolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-413
Number of pages39
JournalMind and Language
Volume30
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language

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