January 19th Talk – Transformers, Contextualism, and Polysemy

On January 19th, 11CET philosopher Jumbly Grindrod from Reading will join our group seminar and talk about how transformer architectures might or might not implement contexualist ideas from linguistics and philosophy of language.

Abstract: In this talk, I will argue that the widely-used transformer architecture (first introduced by Vaswani et al., 2017) suggest a novel and interesting approach to the relationship between context and meaning. I will show this by situating that approach within two related debates: the contextualism debate, which concerns the extent and nature of context-sensitivity in natural language, and the polysemy debate, which is concerned with how the polysemy of an expression should be captured within lexical semantics. Focusing specifically on the self-attention mechanism, I will argue that while the transformer picture is committed to widespread, linguistically unlicenced context-sensitivity, it does not constitute a form of radical contextualism. I will also argue that the transformer approach to polysemy is a novel combination of two current approaches: what Trott and Bergen (2023) label the meaning continuity approach and the core representation approach.

The talk be hosted online at – you can join using the following link: