Linguistic Analysis

A research journal devoted to the publication of high quality articles in formal phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. In continuous publication since 1976. ISSN: 0098-9053


Expressiveness and Complexity in Underspecified Semantics

In this paper we address an important issue in the development of an adequate formal theory of underspecified semantics. The tension between expressive power and computational tractability poses an acute problem for any such theory. Generating the full set of resolved scope readings from an underspecified representation produces a combinatorial explosion that undermines the efficiency of these representations. Moreover, Ebert (2005) shows that most current theories of underspecified semantic representations suffer from expressive incompleteness. In previous work we present an account of underspecified scope representations within Property Theory with Curry Typing (PTCT), an intensional first-order theory for natural language semantics. We review this account, and we show that filters applied to the underspecified-scope terms of PTCT permit expressive completeness. While they do not solve the general complexity problem, they do significantly reduce the search space for computing the full set of resolved scope readings in non-worst cases. We explore the role of filters in achieving expressive completeness, and their relationship to the complexity involved in producing full interpretations from underspecified representations.