Dynamic turn in semantics::Semantics


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Dynamic turn in semantics {{#invoke:Sidebar|sidebar}} In Chomskyan linguistics there was no mechanism for the learning of semantic relations, and the nativist view considered all semantic notions as inborn. Thus, even novel concepts were proposed to have been dormant in some sense. This view was also thought unable to address many issues such as metaphor or associative meanings, and semantic change, where meanings within a linguistic community change over time, and qualia or subjective experience. Another issue not addressed by the nativist model was how perceptual cues are combined in thought, e.g. in mental rotation.<ref>Barsalou, L.; Perceptual Symbol Systems, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22(4), 1999</ref>

This view of semantics, as an innate finite meaning inherent in a lexical unit that can be composed to generate meanings for larger chunks of discourse, is now being fiercely debated in the emerging domain of cognitive linguistics<ref name="Langacker:1999">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref> and also in the non-Fodorian camp in philosophy of language.<ref name="Peregrin:2003">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref> The challenge is motivated by:

  • factors internal to language, such as the problem of resolving indexical or anaphora (e.g. this x, him, last week). In these situations context serves as the input, but the interpreted utterance also modifies the context, so it is also the output. Thus, the interpretation is necessarily dynamic and the meaning of sentences is viewed as contexts changing potentials instead of propositions.
  • factors external to language, i.e. language is not a set of labels stuck on things, but "a toolbox, the importance of whose elements lie in the way they function rather than their attachments to things."<ref name="Peregrin:2003" /> This view reflects the position of the later Wittgenstein and his famous game example, and is related to the positions of Quine, Davidson, and others.

A concrete example of the latter phenomenon is semantic underspecification – meanings are not complete without some elements of context. To take an example of one word, red, its meaning in a phrase such as red book is similar to many other usages, and can be viewed as compositional.<ref name="Gardenfors:2000">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref> However, the colours implied in phrases such as red wine (very dark), and red hair (coppery), or red soil, or red skin are very different. Indeed, these colours by themselves would not be called red by native speakers. These instances are contrastive, so red wine is so called only in comparison with the other kind of wine (which also is not white for the same reasons). This view goes back to de Saussure:

Each of a set of synonyms like redouter ('to dread'), craindre ('to fear'), avoir peur ('to be afraid') has its particular value only because they stand in contrast with one another. No word has a value that can be identified independently of what else is in its vicinity.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation

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and may go back to earlier Indian views on language, especially the Nyaya view of words as indicators and not carriers of meaning.<ref name="Matilal">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }} The Nyaya and Mimamsa schools in Indian vyākaraṇa tradition conducted a centuries-long debate on whether sentence meaning arises through composition on word meanings, which are primary; or whether word meanings are obtained through analysis of sentences where they appear. (Chapter 8).</ref>

An attempt to defend a system based on propositional meaning for semantic underspecification can be found in the generative lexicon model of James Pustejovsky, who extends contextual operations (based on type shifting) into the lexicon. Thus meanings are generated "on the fly" (as you go), based on finite context.

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Dynamic turn in semantics
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