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Johan Anthony Willem Kamp

Date of birth

5 September 1940, at Den Burg, Texel, Holland


High School: Murmellius Gymnasium, Alkmaar, Holland
Undergraduate: University of Leiden, Holland; B.A. in Physics and Mathematics
Graduate: University of Amsterdam, Holland
Drs. in Logic, Foundations of Mathematics and Philosophy of the Empirical Sciences, with Physics and Mathematics as subsidiary subjects
Graduate: University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Ph.D. in Philosophy
Dissertation: Tense Logic and the Theory of Linear Order
Doctoral Committee: R. Montague (Chairman), C.C. Chang, A. Church, D. Kaplan, Y. Moschovakis, H. Sobel.

Teaching expericence

Instructor, Department of Philosophy, UCLA, Spring Quarter;
Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, Cornell University;
Wetenschappelijk medewerker, Department of Mathematics, University of Asterdam;
Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, University College, London;
Visiting Associate Professor, UCLA, Spring Semester;
Visiting Professor, Summer Institute of Linguistics, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts;
Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, University of London (Bedford College);
Visiting Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, MIT;
Visiting Associate Professor, The University of Texas, Austin, Texas;
Reader in Philosophy, University of London (Bedford College);
Spring 1983
Professor of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts;
Fall 1984
Professor of Philosophy, The University of Texas, Austin, Texas;
Summer 1988
Full Professor, Formal Logics and Philosophy of Language at the Institut für Maschinelle Sprachverarbeitung, Universität Stuttgart;
Spring 1997
Visiting Professor, Department of Linguistics & Philosophy, UCLA.

Fellowships, participations in workshops, projects, etc.

Summer 1973
Participant at the MBBS Workshop on Semantics at The University of Michigan;
Summer 1974
Participant at the MBBS Workshop on Formal Semantics at The University of Massachusetts;
Spring, Summer 1980
Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Cognitive Science at The University of Texas, Austin;
Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford California);
Fall 1982
Senior Research Fellow, Center for Cognitive Science, The University of Texas, Austin;
Participant in the DFG project on Tense and Aspect in the Romance Languages, Stuttgart, West Germany;
Senior Research Fellow, Center for Cognitive Science, The University of Texas (for 50% of the academic year);
Summer 1983/84/85
Visitor, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University;
Summer 1985
Research at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Projects since 1988

Dyana (1989–1995).

Sonderforschungsbereich “Spachtheoretische Methoden für die Computerlinguistik” (SFB 340). (1989–2000).

FraCaS (1995–1997).

Logik in der Philosophie, DFG Forschergruppe (2000–2002).


I started academic life as a student in Mathematics and Physics at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in 1958; my aim was to become a theoretical physicist. After my B.A. in 1961 I wanted to do something quite different for a year before throwing myself into the black hole of theoretical physics from which, I was told by people in the know, there would be no return. So I went to join – but only for the mentioned year, or so I thought – to the recently founded Institute for Logic and Foundations of Science of E. W. Beth in Amsterdam. Once there I got hooked and stayed, thus exchanging, some would say, one black hole for another. But it has proved to be a nice hole, and sliding into it ever more deeply has been exhilarating at times, and never dull.

From Amsterdam I went to UCLA to become a doctoral student of Richard Montague. During my three year stay at UCLA I took advantage of the very strong presence of Mathematical Logic in the Mathematics Department there, with, among others, C.C. Chang and Yannis Moschovakis. Equally important for me was that I got to know, during my first semester at UCLA, the philosopher and logician Arthur Prior. Prior was to become, together with Beth and Montague, the strongest influence on my intellectual development and lasting scientific convictions. It was Prior's seminar on tense logic at UCLA in the fall of '65 which gave me the topic for my dissertation. My greatest debt, however, is to Richard Montague. Montague taught me how research in formal logic and “formal philosophy” is done by tolerating my presence on uncountable occasions when he was doing his own work. This is surely an unconventional and highly unusual way of educating a graduate student, but it is one from which I learned much that I could not have learned in any other way and it gave me a sense of intellectual quality and honesty that I have tried to live by ever since.

After UCLA I taught for two years in the Philosophy Department of Cornell University, then spent a year as an assistant to Anne Troelstra in the Mathematics Department of Amsterdam University. After that I was attached for another 18 years to Departments of Philosophy – of University College, London; Bedford College (at the time both of these were independent parts of the University of London); the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and the University of Texas, Austin. Since 1988 I have been at the IMS (Institute for Computational Linguistics) of the University of Stuttgart, where I expect to remain until (formal) retirement in 2005. Teaching in many departments which are partly devoted to different subjects is certainly no licence for not belonging to any one discipline in particular, but it is an important causal factor in producing this state of affairs. (I cope with this by telling linguists that I am not really a linguist, by telling philosophers that I am not really a philosopher, by telling logicians that I am not really a logician, and so on – a strategy that works quite well as far as it goes; unfortunately it doesn't go very far.)

Over the years my research interests have converged ever more strongly on the question how human beings represent meaning and how those representations enable them to do the various things that people do with information, such as drawing inferences and making plans for action, and most particularly, how they obtain such representations from what we read or are told, and how we reconvert them into words when we want to communicate them to others. Because of their linguistic dimension these interests subsume most of semantics and pragmatics, large parts of logic and in view of their language-transcendent dimension they include pretty much all that belongs within a general Theory of Information of the sort that is slowly but steadily taking shape.

A more specific concern within this much larger domain has been, for more than two decades now, with the question how natural language gets around the obstacle of our limited capacity for processing complex sentences. When a sentence gets very long, noone can understand it. Therefore we are forced, when narrating a intricate story or explaining a complex state of affairs, to produce a discourse consisting of many sentences of reasonable size, instead of one single sentence which would say all if anyone could figure out what it said. The sentences in such a discourse must hang together in recognizable ways, so that the interpreter can reconstruct the complex course of events or state of affairs they describe by integrating their individual contributions into a single coherent picture, or representation. Because of the many kinds of intersentential prongs and sockets of which they have availed themselves in order to make this possible, natural languages differ quite crucially from the predicate claculus and similar artificial languages of formal logic. And understanding how the intersentential prongs and sockets fit together is a challenge not just for the student of language but for anyone who wants to develop a better sense of how human beings mange to process information generally.

Context dependence of meaning, and the dynamic character of interpretation which it entails – each new sentence in a text or utterance in a dialogue gets interpreted in the context of what came before it and contributes to the context for what comes after it – are an intriguing and essential feature of the way in which natural languages work. How context dependence in language works in detail, and how central it is to the way in which meaning is verbally expressed are matters of which we now understand a good deal more, I believe, than we did thirty, twenty or ten years ago. But there are other aspects of meaning which are equally important but which have so far proved frustratingly recalcitrant to the formal methods of analysis which I (among many others) have endeavoured to apply to the study of language. First, virtually all natural language concepts are vague, or at least potentially vague – there always will be or could be borderline cases. Secondly, very commonly the use we make of words is in some sense or other non-literal, metonymic or metaphorical.

Vagueness is an inevitable consequence of our epistemic relations to almost anything that we can turn into an object of thought, with the objects of pure mathematics presumably as only exception); and the various forms of non-literal usage mirror our ability to “think in images” – to transfer structures from one cognit have a clearer picture of how the mind makes contact with the world and how it adapts existing modes of thought to new challenges with which the world confronts it, can we hope to be in a position to account for the these aspects of language, in which these general mental dispositions find their verbal reflection. This is as much a philosophical project as a linguistic one, and in the light of the rapid progress we have ben witnessing in the cognitive sciences it now looks like it can (and so it should) also be a project in cognitive science. If there are any issues that I would like to make some advances in the years to come, then it is these.

[Often, in such autobiographical vignettes the author includes a list of passions or hobbies. That I have too many of those to list would be an exageration, though by my own reckoning there are quite a few. Yet I do not make a try of listing them. I have been lucky in that “hobby” is a very good description (and “passion” a close second) for what I have been doing for a living most of the time during all of my working life. If, as I note with regret on the reasonably rare occasions when I take stock, that this one “hobby” has pretty much crowded out all others, that still seems a modest price to pay for the luck of doing for pay what one wants to do anyway and what in someimportant sense one really believes in. Life and society being what they are, this is a luck that seems to by passing by most of us (including, even, quite a few academics!) If that is so, then a price would have to be very high before it is too high for the luck I know I have had. Certainly sacrificing one hobby for another is a very modest expense.]

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