Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sweetser and Fauconnier: "Cognitive Links and Domains" (1996)

This paper introduces the concept of "mental spaces." It also serves as an introduction to the various papers in Spaces, Worlds, and Grammar (1996), which is edited by the two authors.

The bulk of the paper is concerned with the kind of ambiguity you get from sentences like these:
If Jack were older, his gray hair would inspire confidence. (p. 10)
Such a sentence can either be analyzed with the conditional modality modifying both the noun phrase and the verb phrase, or only the verb phrase.

On the first reading, the gray hair is a part of the fictive universe, as is its inspirational quality. On the second reading, only the inspirational quality is fictive. In modal logic, these are called the de re and de dicto readings.

Sweetser and Fauconnier draw a lot of diagrams and talk a lot of brain talk, but they don't seem to consider the option of doing a logical analysis of the situation. The closest they get is when they confidently (and in a parenthesis) reject it---the two readings readings are namely
incorrectly viewed as logical properties of propositional-attitude sentences in many philosophical treatments. (p. 14)
Their only argument that this is bad seems to be that their own account has some shadowy relation to mental phenomena like association.

Finding out what depth a noun phrase should be nested at would have been interesting, though. It would, for instance, allow them to compute the number of readings for a sentence. This amounts to, for every definite noun phrase, counting how many diamond operators there are with a scope that spans the noun phrase.

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