The Structure of Semantic Competence: Compositionality as an Innate Constraint of The Faculty of Language

Mind and Language 30 (4):375–413 (2015)
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Abstract

This paper defends the view that the Faculty of Language is compositional, i.e., that it computes the meaning of complex expressions from the meanings of their immediate constituents and their structure. I fargue that compositionality and other competing constraints on the way in which the Faculty of Language computes the meanings of complex expressions should be understood as hypotheses about innate constraints of the Faculty of Language. I then argue that, unlike compositionality, most of the currently available non-compositional constraints predict incorrect patterns of early linguistic development. This supports the view that the Faculty of Language is com- positional. More generally, this paper presents a way of framing the compositionality debate (by focusing on its implications for language acquisition) that can lead to its even- tual resolution, so it will hopefully also interest theorists who disagree with its main conclusion.

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Guillermo Del Pinal
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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