Formal semantics and pragmatics as they have developed since the late 1960’s have been shaped by fruitful interdisciplinary collaboration among linguists, philosophers, and logicians, among others, and in turn have had noticeable effects on developments in syntax, philosophy of language, computational linguistics, and cognitive science.
In this talk I will first describe the environment in which formal semantics was born and took root. It will be natural to start around 1957, the year of the founding of the Group in Logic and Methodology of Science, since that is also the year that Richard Montague defended his dissertation at Berkeley, with Tarski as his advisor. (David Lewis, Terry Parsons, and I were all just finishing high school then.) I’ll highlight the differences in ways of thinking about natural language semantics in linguistics and in philosophy and logic; linguists and logicians were agreed, for quite different reasons, that the methods of logic were inapplicable to natural language. And then in the late 1960’s, both Montague and Lewis made radical-at-the-time proposals that challenged that long-held prejudice. I’ll focus on Montague’s contributions to the founding of formal semantics, since he came directly out of the Group whose anniversary is being celebrated, and epitomizes its interdisciplinarity with his study at Berkeley of logic, mathematics, philosophy, and Near Eastern languages.
I’ll talk about some of the pivotal contributions by logicians as formal semantics and pragmatics developed after Montague’s untimely death in 1971, and I’ll also discuss the “naturalizing” influence that linguists have had on the field as it has become more and more a branch of linguistics. Along the way I’ll describe some of the ways that that advances and debates in formal semantics and pragmatics have been connected with foundational issues in linguistic theory, philosophy, and cognitive science, some of which are still far from resolved.