Abstract:

A remarkable thing about natural language is that we can use it to share our beliefs and thoughts about the world with other speakers of our language. In cases of successful communication, beliefs seem to be transferred from speakers to hearers by means of the hearer recovering the contents of the speaker’s utterances. This is so natural to us that we take it for granted in our everyday life, and rarely stop to think about how it’s is possible. Nevertheless, it’s a phenomenon that calls for explanation. It is natural to expect that natural language semantics has a key explanatory role to play here. In order to understand this role, we must relate the semantic values assigned to sentences by semantic theory with the content of our speech acts. The simplest possible relation would be identity; the meaning of a sentence is simply the belief expressed by an assertion of the sentence in a given context of utterance. However, a number of problem cases in the literature suggest that this cannot be the case. This dissertation offers a critical assessment of the arguments for distinguishing the semantic value of a sentence from it’s so called assertoric content, focusing on problems arising from the analysis of tense and temporal expressions. I conclude that they are indeed distinct, and offer a constructive account of how they must be related in order to allow for an explanation of communicative success.

Full-text from DiVA: Content and Composition: An essay on tense, content, and semantic value (pdf)