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date: 06 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

In traditional formal semantics, reference, truth, and satisfaction are basic and representation is derivative and dispensable. Semantics in this traditional sense has no bearing on mental processing. Thus, cognitive neuroscience cannot provide any insights into the nature of reference. Unlike traditional semantics, dynamic semantic theories—such as discourse representation theory (DRT) —treat ever-growing, revisable mental representations as the basic semantic entities. New information may refer to previously introduced referents and discourse referents may refer to worldly entities. Because DRT treats mental representations as indispensable, evidence from neuroscience—particularly recording of electroencephalograms (EEG) and its derivative event-related potentials (ERPs)—can reasonably be thought to shed light on meaning and reference. This chapter first reviews the advantages of DRT in accommodating linguistic data and then reviews data from neuroscience that seem to support it. Finally, it considers methodological concerns that have been raised about the neuroscientific approach to semantics.

Keywords: reference, formal semantics, discourse representation theory, mental representations, neuroscience, electrophysiological studies, event-related brain potentials.

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