is there anyone who can please clarify how these schools diverge from and converge with each other? A prof. told me interpretive semantics and generative semantics can be both categorized under generativist semantics. However, I have not been able to find a source discussing the issue and the whole thing is so confusing I can't understand how these schools differ from each other.

Any ideas? Thanks a million in advance!

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    The original dispute is chronicled in The Linguistics Wars, by Randy Allen Harris. Here's a review from Linguist List
    – jlawler
    Mar 3, 2018 at 18:57
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    @jlawler He'll go a long way that reviewer ... :) That's the most must read vibe I've ever experienced from a linguistics review! Mar 7, 2018 at 22:36

2 Answers 2


The main idea of generative semantics is that meaning is present from the start (deep structure), and rules specify how words are inserted and arranged, given that. For a single article, I suggest George Lakoff "On Generative Semantics", in Steinberg & Jacobovits eds. Semantics: An Interdisciplinary Reader. Interpretive semantics, by contrast, specifies the structure of a sentence with no reference to meaning, and towards the end of the derivation, the meaning is computed based on what the syntax has done. See Chomsky "Deep structure, surface structure, and semantic interpretation", same volume.


A semantic theory for a natural language is a translation scheme for relating the pronunciations of the natural language to the expressions of a logic. A logic is more convenient for describing (correct) human reasoning, in general, and implication, in particular. If the translation goes from the natural language to the logical expressions, it's "interpretive", and if it goes the other way, it's "generative" (though one needn't necessarily distinguish the two directions).

To supplement the references in user6726's answer, here is an online copy of a relevant influential article by David Lewis, General Semantics.

  • +1 If only anyone knew what implication is ... ;) Mar 7, 2018 at 22:40

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