The Lambda Calculus for Absolute Dummies (like myself)
The Lambda Calculus is often used in semantics as a way of representing meaning in a manner more independent of the specific words used in a particular language. For example, “the cat chased the dog”, “the dog was chased by the cat”, and “le chat a chassé le chien” would all have the same representation because they have the same literal meaning, despite a few pragmatic differences, such as putting focus on the dog or being comprehensible only to speakers of French.
This accessible introduction to the Lambda Calculus is aimed at philosophers, but since semantics and philosophy end up having certain areas of intersection, it’s also very useful for linguists. Excerpt:
It might look frighteningly mathematical from a distance (it has a greek letter in it, after all!), so nobody outside of academic computer science tends to look at it, but it is unbelievably easy to understand. And if you understood it, you might end up with a much better intuition of computation. […]
Don’t be intimidated by the word “calculus”! It does not have any complicated formulae or operations. All it ever does is taking a line of letters (or symbols), and performing a little cut and paste operation on it. As you will see, the Lambda Calculus can compute everything that can be computed, just with a very simple cut and paste.
To follow that, here are some notes on the Lambda Calculus as it relates to linguistics.