Context-sensitivity in natural language

This project is led by Alex Silk and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

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 academic work on these expressions has been piecemeal, so the project 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 project is distinctive in that Dr Silk and his collaborator, Dr Daniel Rothschild (University College London), hold competing views on the subject.