- Theories of Meaning
- Word Meaning (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- 1. Two Kinds of Theory of Meaning
- Philosophy of Language
Such would be, e. Therefore, if V3 is substantive, so is V1. But this is beside the point. But what is relevant here is informative power: to one who understands the metalanguage of V3 , i. In the mids, Dummett raised the issue of the proper place of lexical meaning in a semantic theory. However, he did not specify the format in which word senses should be expressed in a semantic theory, except for words that could be defined e.
But of course, not all words are of this kind. For other words, the theory should specify what it is for a speaker to know them, though we are not told how exactly this should be done.
Lacking such descriptions, possible worlds semantics is not really a theory of meaning but a theory of logical form or logical validity. In a similar vein, Partee argued that Montague semantics, like every compositional or structural semantics, does not uniquely fix the intensional interpretation of words. The addition of meaning postulates does rule out some interpretations e. Arguments to the same effect were developed by Bonomi and Harnad In his view, lexical competence has two aspects: an inferential aspect, underlying performances such as semantically based inference and the command of synonymy, hyponymy and other semantic relations; and a referential aspect, which is in charge of performances such as naming e.
However, the two aspects are independent of each another, and neuropsychological evidence appears to show that they can be dissociated: there are patients whose referential competence is impaired or lost while their inferential competence is intact, and vice versa see Section 5. Since the early s, views on lexical meaning were revolutionized by semantic externalism. In the case of most natural kind names, it may be argued, baptisms are hard to identify or even conjecture.
Does externalism apply to other lexical categories besides proper names and natural kind words? Others sided with Putnam and the externalist account: for example, Kornblith pointed out that artifactual kinds from an ancient civilization could be re-baptized in total ignorance of their function. The new artifactual word would then refer to the kind those objects belong to independently of any beliefs about them, true or false. There is another form of externalism that does apply to all or most words of a language: social externalism Burge , the view on which the meaning of a word as used by an individual speaker depends on the semantic standards of the linguistic community the speaker belongs to.
Though both forms of externalism focus on reference, neither is a complete reduction of lexical meaning to reference. Two main solutions have been proposed. Stereotypes are not meanings, as they do not determine reference in the right way: there are albino tigers and tigers that live in zoos. Knowledge of stereotypes is necessary to be regarded as a competent speaker, and—one surmises—it can also be considered sufficient for the purposes of ordinary communication.
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Suppose a speaker A belongs to a community C that is familiar with tigers; unfortunately, A has no knowledge of the typical appearance of a tiger and is unable to tell a tiger from a leopard. Some philosophers e. The idea is that how an object of reference is described not just which object one refers to can make a difference in determining behavior.
Theories of Meaning
Oedipus married Jocasta because he thought he was marrying the queen of Thebes, not his mother, though as a matter of fact Jocasta was his mother. This applies to words of all categories: someone may believe that water quenches thirst without believing that H 2 O does; Lois Lane believed that Superman was a superhero but she definitely did not believe the same of her colleague Clark Kent, so she behaved one way to the man she identified as Superman and another way to the man she identified as Clark Kent though they were the same man.
Theorists that countenance these two components of meaning and content usually identify the narrow aspect with the inferential or conceptual role of an expression e , i. Crucially, the two aspects are independent: neither determines the other. But the most influential critic of externalism has undoubtedly been Chomsky Some semantic properties do appear to be integrated with other aspects of language. Along similar lines, others have maintained that the genuine semantic properties of linguistic expressions should be regarded as part of syntax, and that they constrain but do not determine truth conditions e.
Hence, the connection between meaning and truth conditions and reference may be significantly looser than assumed by many philosophers. Following Austin and the later Wittgenstein, they identified meaning with use and were prone to consider the different patterns of use of individual expressions as originating different meanings of the word. For example, consider the following exchange:.
Word Meaning (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Although B does not literally assert that Kim had breakfast on that particular day see, however, Partee , she does communicate as much. If the interlocutor assumes that the speaker intended him to infer the communicated content—i. However, in about the same years Travis and Searle , pointed out that the semantic relevance of context might be much more pervasive, if not universal: intuitively, the same sentence type could have very different truth conditions in different contexts, though no indexical expression or structure appeared to be involved.
Examples can be multiplied indefinitely, as indefinitely many factors can turn out to be relevant to the truth or falsity of a sentence as uttered in a particular context.
So the sentence is true both in the carton case and in the patch case; it would be false only if the fridge did not contain any amount of any kind of milk whether cow milk or goat milk or elephant milk. Such processes differ from Gricean implicature-generating processes in that they come into play at the sub-propositional level; moreover, they are not limited to saturation of indexicals but may include the replacement of a constituent with another.
Contextualists take different stands on nature of the semantic contribution made by words to sentences, though they typically agree that it is insufficient to fix truth conditions Stojanovic See Del Pinal for an argument that radical contextualism in particular, truth-conditional pragmatics should instead commit to rich lexical items which, in certain conditions, do suffice to fix truth conditions.
Even if sentence types have no definite truth conditions, it does not follow that lexical types do not make definite or predictable contributions to the truth conditions of sentences think of indexical words.
1. Two Kinds of Theory of Meaning
Does this imply that there are no such things as lexical meanings understood as features of a language? If so, how should we account for word acquisition and lexical competence in general? Recanati does not think that contextualism as such is committed to meaning eliminativism, the view on which words as types have no meaning; nevertheless, he regards it as defensible. However, many have objected that minimal content is extremely hard to isolate Recanati ; Stanley Accordingly, Stanley generalizes contextual saturation processes that are usually regarded as characteristic of indexicals, tense, and a few other structures; moreover, he requires that the relevant variables be linguistically encoded, either syntactically or lexically.
It remains to be seen whether such solutions apply in a non- ad hoc way to all the examples of content modulation that have been presented in the literature. In this sense, semantics is not another name for the theory of meaning, because not all meaning-related properties are semantic properties Borg Indeed, this is definitional for lexical meaning: word meanings are the kind of things which, if one puts enough of them together in the right sort of way, then what one gets is propositional content Borg Once more, lexical semantic competence is divorced from grasp of word meaning.
Borg concedes that even such an extended conception of lexical content will not capture, e. The emergence of modern linguistic theories of word meaning is usually placed at the transition from historical-philological semantics Section 2. The advances introduced by the structuralist conception of word meaning are best appreciated by contrasting its basic assumptions with those of historical-philological semantics.
Let us recall the three most important differences Lepschy ; Matthews The account of lexical phenomena popularized by structuralism gave rise to a variety of descriptive approaches to word meaning. We can group them in three categories Lipka ; Murphy ; Geeraerts Katzian semantics combined componential analysis with a mentalistic conception of word meaning and developed a method for the description of lexical phenomena in the context of a formal grammar.
The mentalistic component of Katzian semantics is twofold.
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First, word meanings are defined as aggregates of simpler conceptual features inherited from our general categorization abilities. In Katzian semantics, word meanings are structured entities whose representations are called semantic markers. Katz claimed that this approach was superior in both transparency and richness to the analysis of word meaning that could be provided via meaning postulates. Katzian semantics was favorably received by the Generative Semantics movement Fodor ; Newmeyer and boosted an interest in the formal representation of word meaning that would dominate the linguistic scene for decades to come Harris Nonetheless, it was eventually abandoned.
As subsequent commentators noted, Katzian semantics suffered from three important drawbacks. First, the theory did not provide any clear model of how the complex conceptual information represented by semantic markers contributed to the truth conditions of sentences Lewis Second, some aspects of word meaning that could be easily represented with meaning postulates could not be expressed through semantic markers, such as the symmetry and the transitivity of predicates e.
After Katzian semantics, the landscape of linguistic theories of word meaning bifurcated.
Philosophy of Language
On one side, we find a group of theories advancing the decompositional agenda established by Katz. On the other side, we find a group of theories fostering the relational approach originated by Lexical Field Theory and relational semantics. Following Geeraerts , we will briefly characterize the following ones. Semantic primes are primitive i. According to NSM, the meaning of any word in any natural language can be defined by appropriately combining these fundamental conceptual particles.
Wierzbicka proposed a catalogue of about 60 semantic primes, designed to analyze word meanings within so-called reductive paraphrases. However, the approach has been criticized on various grounds. First, it has been argued that the method followed by NSM in the identification of semantic primes is insufficiently clear e. Second, some have observed that reductive paraphrases are too vague to be considered adequate representations of word meanings, since they fail to account for fine-grained differences between semantically neighboring words.
Third, there is no consensus on what items should ultimately feature in the list of semantic primes available to reductive paraphrases: the content of the list is debated and varies considerably between versions of NSM. See Goddard for some replies and Riemer for further objections. For NSM, word meanings can be exhaustively represented with a metalanguage appealing exclusively to the combination of primitive linguistic particles.
Conceptual Semantics Jackendoff , , proposes a more open-ended approach. According to Conceptual Semantics, word meanings are essentially an interface phenomenon between a specialized body of linguistic knowledge e. Word meanings are thus modeled as hybrid semantic representations combining linguistic features e. Syntactic tags represent the grammatical properties of the word under analysis, while the items in subscript are picked from a core set of perceptually grounded primitives e.