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Richard K. Larson

Richard K. Larson is Professor of Linguistics at Stony Brook University.

Titles by This Author

This introductory text takes a novel approach to the study of syntax. Grammar as Science offers an introduction to syntax as an exercise in scientific theory construction. Syntax provides an excellent instrument for introducing students from a wide variety of backgrounds to the principles of scientific theorizing and scientific thought; it engages general intellectual themes present in all scientific theorizing as well as those arising specifically within the modern cognitive sciences. The book is intended for students majoring in linguistics as well as non-linguistics majors who are taking the course to fulfill undergraduate requirements. Grammar as Science covers such core topics in syntax as phrase structure, constituency, the lexicon, inaudible elements, movement rules, and transformational constraints, while emphasizing scientific reasoning skills. The individual units are organized thematically into sections that highlight important components of this enterprise, including choosing between theories, constructing explicit arguments for hypotheses, and the conflicting demands that push us toward expanding our technical toolkit on the one hand and constraining it on the other. Grammar as Science is constructed as a “laboratory science” course in which students actively experiment with linguistic data. Syntactica, a software application tool that allows students to create and explore simple grammars in a graphical, interactive way, is available online in conjunction with the book. Students are encouraged to “try the rules out,” and build grammars rule-by-rule, checking the consequences at each stage.

Downloadable instructor resources available for this title: instuctor's manual and file of figures in the book

An Introduction to Semantic Theory

Current textbooks in formal semantics are all versions of, or introductions to, the same paradigm in semantic theory: Montague Grammar. Knowledge of Meaning is based on different assumptions and a different history. It provides the only introduction to truth- theoretic semantics for natural languages, fully integrating semantic theory into the modern Chomskyan program in linguistic theory and connecting linguistic semantics to research elsewhere in cognitive psychology and philosophy. As such, it better fits into a modern graduate or undergraduate program in linguistics, cognitive science, or philosophy. Furthermore, since the technical tools it employs are much simpler to teach and to master, Knowledge of Meaning can be taught by someone who is not primarily a semanticist.

Linguistic semantics cannot be studied as a stand-alone subject but only as part of cognitive psychology, the authors assert. It is the study of a particular human cognitive competence governing the meanings of words and phrases. Larson and Segal argue that speakers have unconscious knowledge of the semantic rules of their language, and they present concrete, empirically motivated proposals about a formal theory of this competence based on the work of Alfred Tarski and Donald Davidson. The theory is extended to a wide range of constructions occurring in natural language, including predicates, proper nouns, pronouns and demonstratives, quantifiers, definite descriptions, anaphoric expressions, clausal complements, and adverbs.

Knowledge of Meaning gives equal weight to philosophical, empirical, and formal discussions. It addresses not only the empirical issues of linguistic semantics but also its fundamental conceptual questions, including the relation of truth to meaning and the methodology of semantic theorizing. Numerous exercises are included in the book.