Linguists and philosophers have assumed that meaning can be represented symbolically and that the mental processing of language involves the manipulation of symbols. Scholars have assembled strong evidence that there must be linguistic representations at several abstract levels - phonological, syntactic and semantic - and that those representations are related by a describable system of rules. Because meaning is so complex, linguists often posit an equally complex relationship between semantic and other levels of grammar. This is an analysis of the relationship between syntax and semantics. Noting that meaning is underdetermined by form even in simple cases, the study argues that it is impossible to build knowledge of the world into grammar and still have a describable grammar. The author proposes simple semantic representations and simple rules to relate linguistic levels. Focusing on a class of French verbs, Bouchard shows how multiple senses can be accounted for by the assumption of a single abstract core meaning along with background information about how objects behave in the world.
He demonstrates that this move simplifies the syntax at no cost to the descriptive power of the semantics. In the final chapters, he examines the consequences of his approach for standard syntactic theories. 4 line drawings, 1 table