Dr Alex Silk has been awarded an AHRC Early-Career Research Grant, for the project ‘Context-Sensitivity in Natural Language’.

According to the classical paradigm in philosophy of language, to understand the meaning of a sentence is to know what the world would need to be like for the sentence to be true. One of the most serious challenges to this ‘truth-conditional’ paradigm comes from a certain class of context-sensitive expressions, including epistemic expressions (‘might’, ‘likely’), evaluative expressions (‘beautiful’, ‘tasty’), and vague expressions (‘rich’, ‘tall’).

Most work on these expressions has been piecemeal. The project (awarded £127,588 by the AHRC) will conduct a systematic investigation of the full range of such expressions, and assess the merits of the rival classical and revisionary frameworks for theorising about them. Better understanding their meaning and use promises to illuminate more general issues concerning the varieties of context-sensitivity in natural language, the relation between truth and meaning, and the role of context in communication and collaborative action.

The 30-month project, which started in January 2016, is distinctive in that Dr Silk and his collaborator, Dr Daniel Rothschild (University College London), hold competing views on the topic.