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Side Effects in Natural Languages

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Neel Krishnaswami.

“There is in my opinion no important theoretical difference between natural languages and the artificial languages of logicians; indeed, I consider it possible to comprehend the syntax and semantics of both kinds of language within a single natural and mathematically precise theory.” Richard Montague

This quote from the early 70’s started the field of formal semantics, which studies the meaning of natural language through formal logic. Formal semanticists search for a compositional account of the truth-conditions of natural language utterances. However, finding denotations of tricky constructions like pronouns or definite descriptions leads semanticists to either (a) abandon compositionality or (b) adopt denotations which unwittingly tend to almost always be monads. I will introduce the field of natural language semantics and argue that there are phenomena in natural langauge which are close parallels to side effects in programming languages. I will then introduce an approach that uses a calculus of effects and handlers to construct modular semantics for small fragments of natural languages.

This talk is part of the Theoretical computer science seminar series.

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