Although maps are ubiquitous representational devices, are successfully used by millions of people each day, and are constantly redesigned and improved upon, the formal study of their semantics has been barely broached. How do maps refer to the world they represent? How do they represent what they refer to? Can maps misrepresent things, can they possibly lie? What does it mean for a map to be true or false? Are maps compositional? Do they have a syntax that is coordinated with their semantics? Can maps support ambiguity and other typical features of the semantics of natural languages? Can we extend the formal semantics for maps to other kinds of representations, such as pictures and diagrams?
The starting point of the discussion is the seminal chapter of (Casati & Varzi, 1999), who introduced the notion of formal map, which is to a “natural map” what a sentence in a formalized language is to its counterpart in “natural language”. Formal maps are an abstract, theoretical notion in terms of which we can begin to address the questions raised above in a precise mathematical way. Just like sentences in a formal language may not resemble their natural language counterparts (e.g. “∃xDx” and “There is a dog”), so formal maps may not resemble ordinary maps; nonetheless, from their abstract structure it is possible to derive a number of representational features that help explain the use of maps in communication and our ability do us maps to draw inferences about what they represent. Several criticisms, rejoinders, or modifications of this account have since been presented, among which (Rescorla, 2009), (Blumson, 2014), (Kulvicki, 2015), (Casati, 2017), (Kitcher & Varzi, 2000), (Fodor, 2007). No consensus has been reached and some fundamental questions are still open. These include: the relevance of a Tarsky-style formal framework; whether maps are compositional; the proper treatment of negation; Fodor's Picture Principle; the relationship between natural language semantics and map semantics; the nature and treatment of ambiguity in maps; the inferential power of maps. The present proposal for a Map Semantics workshop aims to promote a constructive discussion of such issues and, hopefully, the identification of suitably general framework within which they can be fruitfully addressed. Potential theoretical extensions include a structural account of the iconicity of diagrams, of gestures and sign languages, and of various types of notations, such as musical notation and writing systems.