From Frege to fieldwork: Adventures of a cross-linguistic semanticist

The Linguistics Department presents the inaugural lecture by Professor Lisa Matthewson since her promotion to Full Professor. This is a stellar accomplishment for any scholar. Professor Matthewson’s promotion is also a landmark within the Department of Linguistics at UBC, as she is the first female full professor in the department’s history.

ABSTRACT: Any speaker of a language can understand a potentially infinite number of utterances in that language. A formal semanticist’s goal is to explain this ability: how do our finite cognitive resources enable us to understand any novel utterance? As cognitive scientists we must explain this ability not just for well-studied languages like English, but for any human language a child might be exposed to. We must therefore undertake cross-linguistic semantic research, and we need to do it urgently given the threat of imminent mass language extinction. In this talk I present some core results from my career-in-progress as a cross-linguistic semanticist. I summarize what we have found out so far about semantic uniformity and diversity across languages, and address the current debate about methodological best practices. I conclude with a manifesto for where the field of formal semantics needs to go next