UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Linguistics Seminar Talk - Gillian Ramchand

31 January 2023, 9:30 am–11:00 am

Linguistics seminar

The Symbolic Domain

Event Information

Open to



Richard Jardine – UCL Linguistics


Room B02, Chandler House
Wakefield Street

The Symbolic Domain 

General cartographic description tells us that there are robust crosslinguistic generalizations about the ordering of meaning elements in an extended functional projection (cf Cinque 1999).  At the bottom of every functional sequence, we find evidence for a  kind of substantive, conceptual, rich, yet flexible kind of  meaning, as denoted by open class items.  Evidence for this kind of layered meaning  is pervasive and exceptionless crosslinguistically, yet it currently looks `accidental' or `templatic'  from the point of view of our formal ontologies. 

Syntacticians describe, and then stipulate the labels in their hierarchic structures.  For them, any such generalizations are either primitive or will eventually be explained by their semantics colleagues.  However, classical compositional semantics can be made to track the syntax, but does not attempt to explain it.  Layering for them is a syntactic fact, not a semantic one. This is because the reliance on extensional formal ontologies where situations themselves, or referents, are fully specified particulars, makes the internal structuring of propositions a templatic matter for the semanticists as well.  

In this talk, I  will argue that hierarchical ordering stems from practical, domain-general semantic factors: the distinction between  essential, reusable content on the one hand and  particularized, referential content on the other. The Lexicon thus assumes a major role as the repository of `re-usable´content which is rich and polysemic. These contents are not straightforwardly represented using the denotational `meanings´ that formal semantics classically traffics in.  I  show that the same `meanings'  in this sense can and do appear in different hierarchical zones. I give evidence instead from neurolinguistics/psycholinguistics for cognitive reality of the symbol as a multi-form, polysemic hub. I offer a formal architecture for understanding how the meaning of the symbol is integrated into a representation that subsequently feed a notion of `truthmaking´.

About the Speaker

Prof Gillian Ramchand

Professor of Linguistics at UiT The Arctic University of Norway / CASTLFish

More about Prof Gillian Ramchand