A paper on language extinction.
I've taken this paper down, but am happy to share it if you contact me.
Discourse and methodological form: why appeals to context still won't go away (to appear; with Eliot Michaelson).
Some philosophers have recently attracted significant attention by breaking with tradition and claiming that the linguistic meaning of ‘that’ fixes its reference without any contribution from speaker intentions, demonstrations, or other features of the speech situation in which the expression is used.
Our aim here is to show that this claim can be sustained only in the thinnest technical sense. While there might be something to gain by moving away from traditional thinking about the role of context view, new-school theories of the sort we take up here offer no way to sidestep the questions that have shaped the philosophical literature on demonstratives. Properly understood, those theories raise the same issues—and are susceptible to the same sort of challenges—as every other extant theory of which we are aware.
No context, no content, no problem. (Under review).
Recently, philosophers have offered compelling reasons to think that demonstratives are best represented as variables, sensitive not to the context of utterance, but to a variable assignment. Variablists typically explain familiar intuitions about demonstratives---intuitions that suggest that what is said by way of a demonstrative sentence varies systematically over contexts---by claiming that contexts initialize a particular assignment of values to variables. I argue that we do not need to link context and the assignment parameter in this way, and that we would do better not to.
Although non-deictic demonstratives—demonstratives that are not used to pick out an individual from the context of utterance—have received significant attention recently in the philosophical literature, existing semantic theories predict that they should be much more widely available than they in fact are. I present data that undermine the leading proposals, and I describe an alternative that is both empirically superior and theoretically attractive. On that alternative, complex demonstratives are a distinctive kind of definite description.
In this paper I show how a class of data due to Lynsey Wolter present a dilemma for the semanticist: either we endorse a radical syntactic proposal, or we give up on the idea that the kind of semantic composition that happens within a demonstrative expression is locally compositional. I present novel data from a wide variety of languages that show that Wolter demonstratives are not a quirk of English, and I conclude that the current state of the art in the literature fails to face up to the tough choices that will be required.
In one sense of ‘metasemantics’, metasemantic theories seek to answer the question: what determines the meaning of a context-sensitive expression in a context? It is standardly assumed that, for a given expression type, there will be a unitary answer to this question; most of the literature on the subject involves arguments designed to show that one particular metasemantic proposal is superior to a specific set of alternatives. The task of the present essay will be to explore whether this is a warranted assumption, or whether the quest for the one true metasemantics is a Quixotic one. We argue that there are good reasons—much better than is commonly appreciated—for thinking the latter.
Demonstratives without rigidity or ambiguity. Linguistics and Philosophy 37:5 (2014) pp. 409-436.
Most philosophers recognize that applying the standard semantics for complex demonstratives to non-deictic instances results in anomalous truth conditions, at best. This fact has generated little concern, however, since most philosophers treat non-deictic demonstratives as marginal cases, and believe that they should be treated using a distinct semantic mechanism. In this paper, I argue that non-deictic demonstratives cannot be written off ; they are widespread in English and foreign languages, and must be treated using the same semantic machinery that is applied to other instances.