Professor Emeritus, Linguistics
Emeritus Professor, Philosophy
Paul Pietroski (PhD, MIT) is Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics. His main research interests lie at the intersection of these fields. Recently, his work has focused on how grammatical structure is related to logical form, how meaning is related to truth, and how human concepts are related to linguistic understanding.
1417B Marie Mount Hall
Philosophy of Language
Linguistic meanings as cognitive instructions
"More" and "most" do not encode the same sorts of comparison.
Natural languages like English connect pronunciations with meanings. Linguistic pronunciations can be described in ways that relate them to our motor system (e.g., to the movement of our lips and tongue). But how do linguistic meanings relate to our nonlinguistic cognitive systems? As a case study, we defend an explicit proposal about the meaning of most by comparing it to the closely related more: whereas more expresses a comparison between two independent subsets, most expresses a subset–superset comparison. Six experiments with adults and children demonstrate that these subtle differences between their meanings influence how participants organize and interrogate their visual world. In otherwise identical situations, changing the word from most to more affects preferences for picture–sentence matching (experiments 1–2), scene creation (experiments 3–4), memory for visual features (experiment 5), and accuracy on speeded truth judgments (experiment 6). These effects support the idea that the meanings of more and most are mental representations that provide detailed instructions to conceptual systems.
Interrogatives, Instructions, and I-languages: An I-Semantics for Questions
An internalist semantics for interrogative clauses, from Terje Lohndal and Paul Pietroski.
Poverty of the Stimulus Revisited
Countering recent critiques, Paul Pietroski and collaborators defend the idea that some invariances in human languages reflect an innate human endowment, as opposed to common experience.
Meaning before truth
Linguistic semantics should be the study, not of reference and truth conditions, but of how the expresssions of a natural language constrain the contents of thoughts and communicative actions.