Historical Linguistics and Formal Semantics

 

The research group sets out to better our understanding of natural language by combining two areas of linguistic research that have not been integrated so far: historical linguistics, the study of how and why languages change over time, and formal semantics, the study of linguistic meaning. These two subfields have developed from remote intellectual disciplines, the former from the philological world, and the latter from mathematical logic. Rooted in such different backgrounds, these two subfields of linguistics do not naturally converge in terms of their goals, methodologies, and research questions. These subfields of linguistics have drawn closer in the second half of the 20th century in the study of semantic change in grammaticalization, i.e., the complex process through which grammatical meanings develop from lexical meanings. Despite these endeavors semantic change is still poorly understood, primarily due to three factors: (1) a lack of in depth case studies from a wide range of languages; (2) a lack of an explicit theory of semantics underlying claims about semantic change; and (3) a poor understanding of the relationship between semantics, pragmatics, and syntax in language change.

Our research group sets out to create a research paradigm that will fill this gap.  The group will jointly explore in a systematic manner how studies in historical linguistics and in semantics can contribute to one another, in an attempt to draw conclusions about the properties of a variety of semantic categories (e.g. negation, temporality, modality), their universality, and the mechanisms underlying recurring shifts in meanings over time, or paths of semantic change, within these categories.