Dr Chris Fox

Reader · Head of Human Language Technology
✍ University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK
· ☏ +44 (0)1206 87 2576 · ⚷ OpenPGP key


My research is located in the intersection of linguistics, computer science, and philosophy. My main interest is in the formal interpretation of language, and foundational issues in semantics. My publications in this area include two monographs: The Ontology of Language (CSLI, 2000) and Foundations of Intensional Semantics (Blackwell, 2005), along with numerous other articles. These works explore axiomatic and proof-theoretic accounts of meaning. I have co-edited the Handbook of Natural Language Processing and Computational Linguistics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) and the second edition of the Handbook of Contemporary Semantic Theory (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015). My recent work has focused on foundational issues in the interpretation of imperative and deontic utterances. I also explore methodological and ontological issues in formal semantic analysis. Before being appointed Reader at the University of Essex, I was a lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and at King’s College London. I also spent some time as a visiting fellow at the Computational Linguistics Institute in Saarbrücken. My qualifications include a BSc in Computing Science, an MSc in Cognitive Science, and a PhD from the Cognitive Science Centre, University of Essex.

Selected Publications


The Ontology of Language. Chris Fox. CSLI. 2000. (Distributed by Chicago University Press.)

Foundations of Intensional Semantics. Chris Fox and Shalom Lappin. Blackwell. 2005.

Handbook of Natural Language Processing and Computational Linguistics. Alex Clark, Chris Fox and Shalom Lappin (eds). Wiley-Blackwell. 2010.

Handbook of Contemporary Semantic Theory (second edition). Shalom Lappin and Chris Fox (eds). Wiley-Blackwell. 2015.

Selected Articles and Conference Papers

Details of my other academic publications are available on a separate searchable publications page, which includes abstracts, BibTeX entries and links to papers.

“The Meaning of Formal Semantics”. In Semantics and Beyond. Philosophical and Linguistic Investigations. De Gruyter. 2014. pp85–108.

“Type-Theoretic Logic with an Operational Account of Intensionality”. Chris Fox and Shalom Lappin. Synthese. January 2014. DOI: 10.1007/s11229-013-0390-1.

“Imperatives: a Judgemental Analysis”. Studia Logica. Volume 100. Issue 4. 2012. pp879–905. DOI: 10.1007/s11225-012-9424-9

“In Defense of Axiomatic Semantics”. Chris Fox and Raymond Turner. In Philosophical and Formal Approaches to Linguistic Analysis. Ontos Verlag. 2012. pp145–160.

“Obligations and Permissions”. Language and Linguistics Compass. Volume 6. Issue 9. 2012. Wiley-Blackwell. pp593–610. DOI: 10.1002/lnc3.352

“Expressiveness and Complexity in Underspecified Semantics”. Chris Fox and Shalom Lappin. Linguistic Analysis. Volume 36. Number 1–4. pp385–417. 2010. Festschrift for Jacob Lambek.

“The Good Samaritan and the Hygienic Cook”. In Philosophy of Language and Linguistics, Volume I: The formal turn. Ontos Verlag. 2010. pp103–118.

“Computational Semantics”. In Handbook of Natural Language Processing and Computational Linguistics. Edited by Alex Clark, Chris Fox and Shalom Lappin. Wiley-Blackwell. 2010.

“Obligations, Permissions and Transgressions: an alternative approach to deontic reasoning”. Proceedings of the Tenth Symposium on Logic and Language. 2009. pp81–88.

“Underspecified Interpretations in a Curry-Typed Representation Language”. Chris Fox and Shalom Lappin. Journal of Logic and Computation 15(2). 2005. pp131–143.

“An Expressive First-Order Logic with Flexible Typing for Natural Language Semantics”. Chris Fox and Shalom Lappin. Logic Journal of the Interest Group in Pure and Applied Logics 12. 2004. pp135–168.

“Plurals and Mass Terms in Property Theory”. In Plurality and Quantification. Edited by F. Hamm and E. Hinrichs. Kluwer. 1998. pp113–175.

“Existence Presuppositions and Category Mistakes”. Acta Linguistica Hungarica 42. 1994. pp325–339.

“Individuals and Their Guises: a Property-theoretic Analysis”. Proceedings of the Ninth Amsterdam Colloquium II. 1993. pp301–312.

Research Interests

My primary research interests lie in the area of the philosophy of language and formal semantics. I also have interests in program analysis, particularly in human comprehension of computer programs, and process modelling. Much of my work in these last two areas exploits ideas and techniques from language analysis. I also have an interest in the uses and abuses of technology in the context of human and humantarian rights.

Formal Semantics & the Philosophy of Language

This is my primary research interest. My work on formal semantics is focused on “non-Kripkean” proof-theoretic/axiomatic analysis. Rather than view formal semantics as the activity of reducing phenomena to set-theoretic, possible-worlds models, the aim is to formalise the basic ontological notions and their structural behaviours. This is motivated by a methodological view that formalism should reflect our intuitions about ontological categories. Set theory is demonstrably insensitive to such notions ─ requiring an accompanying narrative to provide the intended interpretation ─ and is in that sense is not faithful to the terms in which we describe our semantic theories (following Feferman and Benacerraf).

Recently I have been working on deontic reasoning ─ reasoning with obligations and permissions ─ and on imperatives and questions. Currently I am exploring logical issues relating to mereological universalism and nihilism. This is concerned with the questions of whether we compose natural objects out of arbitrary compositions of other objects (universalism), whether there is anything in the world that governs what objects we take there to be (which nihilism rejects), and whether, and in what way, logical formalisation can help us to reflect on these issues (as in Lewis’ and Sider’s work on universalism). This is revisiting some issues and arguments that were discussed in my thesis on Plurals and Mass Terms in Property Theory, and my monograph on The Ontology of Language.

Topics on which I have made contributions

  • Fine-grained intensionality
  • Imperatives
  • Deontic reasoning
  • Questions and answers
  • Methodological issues
  • Underspecification
  • Anaphora and ellipsis
  • Property Theory
  • Type theory, including polymorphic and dependent types
  • Weak first-order theories
  • Plurals and mass terms

I am a member of the editorial board for Semantics and Pragmatics, a member of the EPSRC College, and former member of the editorial board for Linguistics and Philosophy. I am a founding member of the interdisciplinary Language and Computation Group at Essex (LAC) which holds regular workshops. Details are available from the Language and Computation Wiki. I also helped establish and run the CSEE Logic Seminar Series. Details of the logic talks can be found on the Logic Seminar Series website.

Some of this work has been supported at various times by the Royal Society, EPSRC/SERC and ESRC.

Human Rights and Information Technology

I am a member of the Senior Management Team, and technical workstream director on the ESRC-funded centre on Human Rights, Big Data and Technology. We are exploring: (i) the use of social media by existing human rights groups and NGOs; (ii) problems in the statistical analysis of social media for identifying human right abuses; techniques for systematic analysis of (iii) textual social media and (iv) image data, to identify or track potential human rights abuses, and improve humanitarian responses; and (v) ethical issues associated with big data and algorithmic analysis. The project is based in the Human Rights Centre at Essex (Principal Investigator: Lorna McGregor; Co-Lead: Maurice Sunkin).

This work is funded by the ESRC.

Process Modelling & Program Analysis

I have an interest in the type-theoretic analysis of software engineering languages and notations and in formal models of processes. Previously I have also worked on weak conservative approaches to reasoning with computer programs: in general, many “interesting” questions about computer programs are unanswerable due to various versions of the halting problem; weak, conservative approaches attempt to approximate such problems in order to produce “good enough” answers to common questions. I produced the first fully-automatic conditioned program slicer: program slicing is intended to eliminate program statements that are not required for the subcomputation of interest; conditioned program slicing additionally eliminates code that cannot be executed in a given context ─ it requires us to reason with the conditions under which different program paths can be executed.

Areas in which I have made contributions include: (i) Translating between formal process representation languages and business models; (ii) Weak conservative reasoning with process models; (iii) Translating controlled descriptions of processes into formal models; (iv) Distributed workflow management; (v) Variable dependence analysis; (vi) Program transformation to aid testing; (vii) Conditioned program slicing; (viii) Slicing and conditioning of state-charts. (The last of these is interesting in that generally state-chart processes do not terminate; thought has to be given to using generalised notions of reachability in place of termination.)

Some of the work on process modelling has been funded by the EU. Some of the research on program analysis has been supported by DaimlerChrysler and the EPSRC.

Research Supervision & Teaching

Supervision and Research Degrees

I am currently (co)supervising a number of PhD students in natural language processing. I am keen to supervise PhD and MPhil research in natural language semantics, computational linguistics, program analysis (applied and theoretical) and related areas. Possible topics include:

  • Combining type-logical grammar with intensional semantics
  • Modelling questions and answers without possible worlds
  • Implementing a type-theoretic analysis of anaphora and ellipsis
  • Type-theoretic analysis of imperative programming languages
  • Type-theoretic analysis of architectural languages

Contact me if you wish to discuss these or any other research topics. Further details on the application procedure for research degrees are given on the departmental website. There is also information about fees, scholarships, and alumni discounts on the university’s web pages.


I currently teach on the Computer Science degree programme at Essex. I have previously taught at undergraduate and postgraduate level in areas related to language, logic, and computer science, including: natural language semantics; logic; formal methods; artificial intelligence; discrete mathematics; program semantics; algorithms; data-structures; automata theory; embedded systems; languages and compilers; and the relational model, in addition to supervising group projects and individual dissertations.

Author: Dr Chris Fox

Created: 2017-11-30 Thu 17:04

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