Good linguistic semantics textbook?

I’m looking for recommendations for a good textbook/handbook/reference on (non-formal) linguistic semantics. ┬áMy undergrad semantics course was almost entirely focused on logical/formal semantics, which is fine, but I don’t feel familiar with the breadth of substantive issues — for example, I’d be hard-pressed to explain why something like semantic/thematic role labeling should be useful for anything at all.

I somewhat randomly stumbled upon Frawley 1992 (review) in a used bookstore and it seemed pretty good — in particular, it cleanly separates itself from the philosophical study of semantics, and thus identifies issues that seem amenable to computational modeling.

I’m wondering what else is out there? ┬áHere’s a comparison of three textbooks.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Good linguistic semantics textbook?

  1. Much of what gets called “semantics” in linguistics is really just syntax with attention to what linguists like to call “logical form”, but a computer scientist might call an “abstract syntax tree”. Thematic roles basically provide a way of factoring the lexical-syntactic interface, so that if you know something about the meaning of a relation (e.g., who the more active role is), you can figure out how its arguments work (e.g., the most active role becomes the subject and the less active the object). These relations tend to be associative rather than absolute. A good example of this kind of reasoning is Beth Levin’s verb categorization and its attendant coding in something like PropBank. Is it a good idea? I still don’t have a strong opinion.

    Alas, I don’t know of a good textbook treatment of any of this.

    The other side of the semantic coin is the philosophy of language, which is more about meaning and the relation of language to the world. For this, I’d recommend Martinich’s collection The Philosophy of Language. This includes connections to what is commonly called pragmatics, which is how factors of discourse and context impact meaning. There are some standard books on this, but you might as well just read Strawson and Grice in the Martinich collection.

  2. brendano says:

    Hm. I guess the most novel things I’m seeing in this Frawley book are overviews of theories like:

    “Nouns tend to encode entities, verbs tend to encode events. Entities tend to be temporally stable, events tend to be temporally brief. Now here’s a bunch of examples and exceptions and refinements to these tendencies.”

    I guess this is related to the syntax-semantics interface but it definitely seems different than just “how do I get the abstract syntax tree”. Maybe this is more like philosophy of language? Not really pragmatics though.

  3. Good publish you bought right here, I wasn’t actually interested at first till i learn the middle part….good luck on your future posts.

  4. Pingback: Linguistic semantics | Keritesorszag

  5. RONALD LOUI says:

    Bob Carpenter, email me — I have a question for you.

    BTW, I just wrote something today about how a paper by Rissland and Skalak taught me more about semantics than anything I learned reading philosophy of language…but you guys are talking more about Montague stuff than Hart/Wittgenstein/Austin/Waismann stuff…