An agent-based framework for natural language semantics

Alistair Knott
Dept of Computer Science, University of Otago

The question that I'll be considering in this talk is a very general
one: what is the semantic framework that we should use for
representing the information conveyed by utterances in natural
language? I'll begin by fleshing out the relevant notion of `semantic
framework'. I'll then put forward a hypothesis that addresses the
question, and suggest that our representation of the meaning of an
utterance should make reference to the operation of a general-purpose
algorithm being executed by an agent interacting with the world, whose
function is to interleave processes of perception, action and
theorem-proving. The agent can either be one of the conversational
participants, or the person from whose perspective the content of the
utterance is being described (for instance, the observer or
protagonist in a narrative). I'll illustrate this idea by considering
a set of linguistic phenomena related to the representation of the
relations signalled by sentence connectives like `so' and `but'.