Content vs. function words: the view from distributional semantics
Counter to the often assumed division of labour between content and function words,
we argue that both types of words have lexical content in addition to their logical content. We
propose that the difference between the two types of words is a difference in degree. We conducted
a preliminary study of quantificational determiners with methods from Distributional
Semantics, a computational approach to natural language semantics. Our findings have implications
both for distributional and formal semantics. For distributional semantics, they indicate
a possible avenue that can be used to tap into the meaning of function words. For formal semantics,
they bring into light the context-sensitive, lexical aspects of function words that can
be recovered from the data even when these aspects are not overtly marked. Such pervasive
context-sensitivity has profound implications for how we think about meaning in natural language.
Keywords: function words, lexical semantics, determiners, distributional semantics.