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Words

Edited by Guy Longworth (University of Warwick)
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Summary Philosophers and linguists reflect in a variety of ways on the natures of words. One range of issues here concern the metaphysics of words: are words concrete items in the world, kinds of items, or elements of some other category? What are the principles for counting words? Are there ambiguous words, or are there, for example, a variety of words each spelled "bank"? Are words basic, or are they built from more basic elements, like morphemes, features, or letters? Connected with the last question, philosophers and linguists have discussed issues about the internal semantic structure of words, a version of the question whether words are definable. Sometimes this issue is pursued via the question, are there building blocks for words that can only be combined in a limited range of ways and thus make it impossible for there to be certain words, at least in normal human languages?
Key works Kaplan 1990 David Kaplan's important early discussion of the metaphysics of words. Kaplan 2011 Further, more recent discussion by Kaplan, responding to the following two pieces. Hawthorne & Lepore 2011 Important recent discussion of the metaphysics of words. Bromberger 2011 Another useful discussion of the metaphysics of words. Wetzel 2002 Useful discussion of the metaphysics of words and types more generally. Pinker manuscript Useful overview of work on the nature of words within theoretical linguistics.
Introductions Wetzel 2008
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  1. O. S. Akhmanova (1973). Meaning Equivalence and Linguistic Expression. Mgu.
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  2. Virgil C. Aldrich (1962). Two or Three Thoughts on “Use of an Expression”. Philosophical Studies 13 (3):33 - 35.
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  3. Emmon Bach, ACTL Semantics: Compositionality and Morphosemantics: II: Words, Morphemes, Constructions, Interpretations.
    A language is specified by a Lexicon and a Grammar. A constructive grammar goes like this: The Lexicon provides a set of items. The items are associated with Categories and Denotations. The Grammar gives a recursive specification of the language by defining sets of derived expressions starting with the Lexicon as the base and allowing the combination of lexical items into expressions with their Categories and Denotations, by a rule-to-rule procedure, and so on ad libitum.
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  4. Emmon Bach, On Morphosemantics: The Internal Meanings of Words.
    The term "morphosemantics" in the title of this talk is intended to raise a fundamental question about linguistic expressions and their meanings. When we talk about the meanings of morphemes and their combination into words should we expect to find the same kinds of meanings and combinations of meanings that we associate with the processes of putting together words into phrases? The answers to this question vary widely or even wildly across different linguists and their schools or theories. For example, (...)
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  5. Emmon Bach (2002). On the Surface Verb Q'ay'ai Qela. Linguistics and Philosophy 25 (5-6):531-544.
  6. Terence Ball (1986). When Words Lose Their Meaning:When Words Lose Their Meaning: Constitutions and Reconstitutions of Language, Character, and Community. James Boyd White. Ethics 96 (3):620-.
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  7. Sigrid Beck (2012). Pluractional Comparisons. Linguistics and Philosophy 35 (1):57-110.
    This paper develops a semantic analysis of data like It is getting colder and colder. Their meaning is argued to arise from a combination of a comparative with pluractionality. The analysis is embedded in a general theory of plural predication and pluractionality. It supports a semantic theory involving a family of syntactic plural operators.
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  8. Claudia Bianchi (2013). How to Do Things with (Recorded) Words. Philosophical Studies 167 (2):485-495.
    The aim of this paper is to evaluate which context determines the illocutionary force of written or recorded utterances—those involved in written texts, films and images, conceived as recordings that can be seen or heard in different occasions. More precisely, my paper deals with the “metaphysical” or constitutive role of context—as opposed to its epistemic or evidential role: my goal is to determine which context is semantically relevant in order to fix the illocutionary force of a speech act, as distinct (...)
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  9. Derek Bickerton (2008). Darwin's Last Word: How Words Changed Cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31 (2):132-132.
    Although Penn et al. make a good case for the existence of deep cognitive discontinuity between humans and animals, they fail to explain how such a discontinuity could have evolved. It is proposed that until the advent of words, no species had mental representations over which higher-order relations could be computed.
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  10. Derek Bickerton (2001). Okay for Content Words, but What About Functional Items? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24 (6):1104-1105.
    Though Bloom makes a good case that learning content-word meanings requires no task-specific apparatus, he does not seriously address problems inherent in learning the meanings of functional items. Evidence from creole languages suggests that the latter process presupposes at least some task-specific mechanisms, perhaps including a list of the limited number of semantic distinctions that can be expressed via functional items, as well as default systems that may operate in cases of impoverished input.
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  11. Manfred Bierwisch (1999). Words in the Brain Are Not Just Labelled Concepts. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (2):280-282.
    Pulvermüller assumes that words are represented as associations of two cell assemblies formed according to Hebb's coincidence rule. This seems to correspond to the linguistic notion that words consist of lexemes connected to lemmas. Standard examples from theoretical linguistics, however, show that lemmas and lexemes have properties that go beyond coincidence-based assemblies. In particular, they are inherently disposed toward combinatorial operations; push-down storage, modelled by decreasing reverberation in cell assemblies, cannot capture this. Hence, even if the language capacity has an (...)
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  12. Paul Bloom, Word Learning, Intentions, and Discourse.
    I am very grateful to Aaron Cicourel, Penelope Brown, Max Louwerse, and Matthew Ventrura for their constructive comments. Aaron Cicourel provides a helpful summary of my book and his commentary offers a good place to enter the discussion for readers who have not yet read How Children Learn the Meanings of Words. Brown and Louwerse and Ventura raise some critical questions with regard to the text to which I will speak in turn.
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  13. Paul Bloom (2001). Controversies in the Study of Word Learning. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24 (6):1124-1130.
    How Children Learn the Meanings of Words (HCLMW) defends the theory that words are learned through sophisticated and early-emerging cognitive abilities that have evolved for other purposes; there is no dedicated mental mechanism that is special to word learning. The commentators raise a number of challenges to this theory: Does it correctly characterize the nature and development of early abilities? Does it attribute too much to children, or too little? Does it only apply to nouns, or can it also explain (...)
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  14. Paul Bloom (2001). Précis of How Children Learn the Meanings of Words. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24 (6):1095-1103.
    Normal children learn tens of thousands of words, and do so quickly and efficiently, often in highly impoverished environments. In How Children Learn the Meanings of Words, I argue that word learning is the product of certain cognitive and linguistic abilities that include the ability to acquire concepts, an appreciation of syntactic cues to meaning, and a rich understanding of the mental states of other people. These capacities are powerful, early emerging, and to some extent uniquely human, but they are (...)
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  15. Daniela Lenti Boero & Luciana Bottoni (2006). From Crying to Words: Unique or Multilevel Selective Pressures? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (3):292-293.
    In the first year of life, infants' utterances change from high-intensity crying to low-intensity acoustic sound strings, acoustically labelling the first word. This transition implies: (1) decoding of phonetic sounds, (2) encoding of phonetic sounds, and (3) a unique linking of an articulated sound to a specific object. Comparative, ontogenetic, and phylogenetic aspects are considered for multilevel selective pressures.
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  16. Pierrette Bouillon & Federica Busa (eds.) (2001). The Language of Word Meaning. Cambridge University Press.
    This volume is a collection of original contributions from outstanding scholars in linguistics, philosophy and computational linguistics exploring the relation between word meaning and human linguistic creativity. The papers present different aspects surrounding the question of what is word meaning, a problem that has been the center of heated debate in all those disciplines that directly or indirectly are concerned with the study of language and of human cognition. The discussions are centered around the newly emerging view of the mental (...)
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  17. Sylvain Bromberger (2011). What Are Words? Comments on Kaplan (1990), on Hawthorne and Lepore, and on the Issue. Journal of Philosophy 108 (9):486-503.
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  18. Matthew Brown & Derek Besner (2002). Semantic Priming: On the Role of Awareness in Visual Word Recognition in the Absence of an Expectancy. Consciousness and Cognition 11 (3):402-422.
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  19. Marc Brysbaert & Denis Drieghe (2003). Please Stop Using Word Frequency Data That Are Likely to Be Word Length Effects in Disguise. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (4):479-479.
    Reichle et al. claim to successfully simulate a frequency effect of 60% on skipping rate in human data, whereas the original article reports an effect of only 4%. We suspect that the deviation is attributable to the length of the words in the different conditions, which implies that E-Z Reader is wrong in its conception of eye guidance between words.
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  20. Herman Cappelen (1999). Intentions in Words. Noûs 33 (1):92-102.
    Philosophers take a great deal of interest in the study of meaning, reference, truth and other semantic properties, but remarkably little attention has been paid to the entities that have semantic properties. The view that’s typically taken for granted has two closely related components.
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  21. Herman Cappelen & Ernie Lepore (2006). Quotation, Context Sensitivity, Signs and Expressions. Philosophical Issues 16 (1):43–64.
    Can one and the same quotation be used on different occasions to quote distinct objects? The view that it can is taken for granted throughout the literature (e.g. Goddard & Routley 1966, Christensen 1967, Davidson 1979, Goldstein 1984, Jorgensen et al 1984, Atlas 1989, Clark & Gerrig 1990, Washington 1992, García-Carpintero 1994, 2004, 2005, Reimer 1996, Saka 1998, Wertheimer 1999). Garcia-Carpintero (1994, p. 261) illustrates with the quotation expression ''gone''. He says it can be used to quote any of the (...)
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  22. Massimiliano Carrara & Daria Mingardo (2013). Artifact Categorization. Trends and Problems. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4 (3):351-373.
    The general question (G) How do we categorize artifacts? can be subject to three different readings: an ontological, an epistemic and a semantic one. According to the ontological reading, asking (G) is equivalent to asking in virtue of what properties, if any, a certain artifact is an instance of some artifact kind: (O) What is it for an artifact a to belong to kind K? According to the epistemic reading, when we ask (G) we are investigating what properties of the (...)
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  23. Robert M. Chapman (1999). Function and Content Words Evoke Different Brain Potentials. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (2):282-284.
    Word class-specific differences in brain evoked potentials (EP) are discussed for connotative meaning and for function versus content words. A well-controlled experiment found matching lexical decision times for function and content words, but clear EP differences (component with maximum near 550 msec) among function words, content words, and nonwords that depended on brain site. Another EP component, with a 480 msec maximum, differentiated words (either function or content) from nonwords.
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  24. Rui P. Chaves (2008). Linearization-Based Word-Part Ellipsis. Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (3):261-307.
    This paper addresses a phenomenon in which certain word-parts can be omitted. The evidence shows that the full range of data cannot be captured by a sublexical analysis, since the phenomena can be observed both in phrasal and in lexical environments. It is argued that a form of deletion is involved, and that the phenomena—lexical or otherwise—are subject to the same phonological, semantic, and syntactic constraints. In the formalization that is proposed, all of the above constraints are cast in a (...)
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  25. Andy Clark (2000). Word and Action. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 30 (Supplement):267-289.
    Recent work in cognitive science highlights the importance of exemplar-based know-how in supporting human expertise. Influenced by this model, certain accounts of moral knowledge now stress exemplar-based, non-sentential know-how at the expense of rule-and-principle based accounts. I shall argue, however, that moral thought and reason cannot be understood by reference to either of these roles alone. Moral cognition -- like other forms of ‘advanced’ cognition -- depends crucially on the subtle interplay and interaction of multiple factors and forces and especially (...)
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  26. Stephen J. Cowley (2005). In the Beginning: Word or Deed? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28 (4):493-494.
    Emphasizing that agents gain from culture-based patterns, I consider the etiology of meaning. Since the simulations show that “shared categories” are not based in learning, I challenge Steels & Belpaeme's (S&B's) folk view of language. Instead, I stress that meaning uses indexicals to set off a replicator process. Finally, I suggest that memetic patterns – not words – are the grounding of language.
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  27. Drzmsra Dellarosa Cummins, The Role of Understanding in Solving Word Problems.
    Word problems are notoriously difficult to solve. We suggest that much of the difficulty children experience with word problems can be attributed to difficulty in comprehending abstract or ambiguous language. We tested this hypothesis by (1) requiring children to recall problems either before or after solving them, (2) requiring them to generate f'mal questions to incomplete word problems, and (3) modeling performance pattems using a computer simulation. Solution performance was found to be systematically related to recall and question generation performance. (...)
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  28. H. B. Curry (1937). On the Use of Dots as Brackets in Logical Expressions. Journal of Symbolic Logic 2 (1):26-28.
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  29. Ludovic De Cuypere & Klaas Willems (2008). Meaning and Reference in Aristotle's Concept of the Linguistic Sign. Foundations of Science 13 (3-4):307-324.
    To Aristotle, spoken words are symbols, not of objects in the world, but of our mental experiences related to these objects. Presently there are two major strands of interpretation of Aristotle’s concept of the linguistic sign. First, there is the structuralist account offered by Coseriu (Geschichte der Sprachphilosophie. Von den Anfängen bis Rousseau, 2003 [1969], pp. 65–108) whose interpretation is reminiscent of the Saussurean sign concept. A second interpretation, offered by Lieb (in: Geckeler (Ed.) Logos Semantikos: Studia Linguistica in Honorem (...)
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  30. A. de Swaan (2001). Words of the World: The Global Language System. Polity.
    This book will be essential reading for those studying sociology, communication studies and linguistics.
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  31. Stanislas Dehaene, Lionel Naccache, L. Jonathan Cohen, Denis Le Bihan, Jean-Francois Mangin, Jean-Baptiste Poline & Denis Rivière (2001). Cerebral Mechanisms of Word Masking and Unconscious Repetition Priming. Nature Neuroscience 4 (7):752-758.
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  32. Michael Devitt (2006). Ignorance of Language. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
    The Chomskian revolution in linguistics gave rise to a new orthodoxy about mind and language. Michael Devitt throws down a provocative challenge to that orthodoxy. What is linguistics about? What role should linguistic intuitions play in constructing grammars? What is innate about language? Is there a 'language faculty'? These questions are crucial to our developing understanding of ourselves; Michael Devitt offers refreshingly original answers. He argues that linguistics is about linguistic reality and is not part of psychology; that linguistic rules (...)
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  33. John Dewey (1946). Peirce's Theory of Linguistic Signs, Thought, and Meaning. Journal of Philosophy 43 (4):85-95.
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  34. Nicolas Dumay & M. Gareth Gaskell (2005). Do Words Go to Sleep? Exploring Consolidation of Spoken Forms Through Direct and Indirect Measures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28 (1):69-70.
    We address the notion of integration of new memory representations and the potential dependence of this phenomenon on sleep, in light of recent findings on the lexicalization of spoken words. A distinction is introduced between measures tapping directly into the strength of the newly acquired knowledge and indirect measures assessing the influence of this knowledge on spoken word identification.
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  35. Katia Duscherer & Daniel Holender (2002). No Negative Semantic Priming From Unconscious Flanker Words in Sight. Journal of Experimental Psychology 28 (4):839-853.
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  36. C. L. Ebeling (1960). Linguistic Units. S-Gravenhage.Mouton.
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  37. Shimon Edelman, Similarity-Based Word Sense Disambiguation.
    We describe a method for automatic word sense disambiguation using a text corpus and a machine- readable dictionary (MRD). The method is based on word similarity and context similarity measures. Words are considered similar if they appear in similar contexts; contexts are similar if they contain similar words. The circularity of this definition is resolved by an iterative, converging process, in which the system learns from the corpus a set of typical usages for each of the senses of the polysemous (...)
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  38. Hans-Jürgen Eikmeyer & Hannes Rieser (eds.) (1981). Words, Worlds, and Contexts: New Approaches in Word Semantics. W. De Gruyter.
    HJ EIKMEYER AND H. RIESER Word Semantics from Different Points of View. An Introduction to the Present Volume /. Possible Worlds Possible worlds have turned ...
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  39. Ralf Engbert & Reinhold Kliegl (2003). The Game of Word Skipping: Who Are the Competitors? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (4):481-482.
    Computational models such as E-Z Reader and SWIFT are ideal theoretical tools to test quantitatively our current understanding of eye-movement control in reading. Here we present a mathematical analysis of word skipping in the E-Z Reader model by semianalytic methods, to highlight the differences in current modeling approaches. In E-Z Reader, the word identification system must outperform the oculomotor system to induce word skipping. In SWIFT, there is competition among words to be selected as a saccade target. We conclude that (...)
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  40. Brian Epstein (2009). Grounds, Convention, and the Metaphysics of Linguistic Tokens. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 9 (1):45-67.
    My aim in this paper is to discuss a metaphysical framework within which to understand “standard linguistic entities” (SLEs), such as words, sentences, phonemes, and other entities routinely employed in linguistic theory. In doing so, I aim to defuse certain kinds of skepticism, challenge convention-based accounts of SLEs, and present a series of distinctions for better understanding what the various accounts of SLEs do and do not accomplish.
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  41. Brian Epstein (2008). The Internal and the External in Linguistic Explanation. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 8 (22):77-111.
    Chomsky and others have denied the relevance of external linguistic entities, such as E-languages, to linguistic explanation, and have questioned their coherence altogether. I discuss a new approach to understanding the nature of linguistic entities, focusing in particular on making sense of the varieties of kinds of “words” that are employed in linguistic theorizing. This treatment of linguistic entities in general is applied to constructing an understanding of external linguistic entities.
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  42. Afsaneh Fazly, Afra Alishahi & Suzanne Stevenson (2010). A Probabilistic Computational Model of Cross-Situational Word Learning. Cognitive Science 34 (6):1017-1063.
    Words are the essence of communication: They are the building blocks of any language. Learning the meaning of words is thus one of the most important aspects of language acquisition: Children must first learn words before they can combine them into complex utterances. Many theories have been developed to explain the impressive efficiency of young children in acquiring the vocabulary of their language, as well as the developmental patterns observed in the course of lexical acquisition. A major source of disagreement (...)
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  43. Fernanda Ferreira (1999). Prosody and Word Production. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (1):43-44.
    Any complete theory of lexical access in production must address how words are produced in prosodic contexts. Levelt, Roelofs & Meyer make some progress on this point: for example, they discuss resyllabification in multiword utterances. I present work demonstrating that word articulation takes into account overall prosodic context. This research supports Levelt et al.'s hypothesized separation between metrical and segmental information.
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  44. Robert Fiengo & Robert May (1998). Names and Expressions. Journal of Philosophy 95 (8):377-409.
  45. Susann Fischer (2010). Word-Order Change as a Source of Grammaticalisation. John Benjamins Pub. Company.
    1. Introduction -- 2. Different views on grammaticalisation and its relation to word-order -- 3. Historical overview of oblique subjects in Germanic and Romance -- 4. Historical overview of stylistic fronting in Germanic and Romance -- 5. Accounting for the differences and similarities between the languages under investigation -- 6. Explaining the changes: minimalism meets von Humboldt and Meillet -- References.
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  46. Jerry Fodor & Ernest Lepore (1999). Impossible Words? Linguistic Inquiry 30:445-453.
    The idea that quotidian, middle-level concepts typically have internal structure-definitional, statistical, or whatever—plays a central role in practically every current approach to cognition. Correspondingly, the idea that words that express quotidian, middle-level concepts have complex representations "at the semantic level" is recurrent in linguistics; it is the defining thesis of what is often called "lexical semantics," and it unites the generative and interpretive traditions of grammatical analysis. Hale and Keyser (HK) (1993) have endorsed a version of lexical decomposition according to (...)
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  47. Jerry Fodor & Ernie Lepore, Reply: Impossible Words.
    It matters to a number of projects whether monomorphemic lexical items (‘boy’, ‘cat’, ‘give’, ‘break’, etc.) have internal linguistic structure. (Call the theory that they do the Decomposition Hypothesis (DC).) The cognitive science consensus is, overwhelmingly, that DC is true; for example, that there is a level of grammar at which ‘breaktr’ has the structure ‘cause to breakint’ and so forth. We find this consensus surprising since, as far as we can tell, there is practically no evidence to support it. (...)
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  48. Alison F. Garton (2001). Word Meaning, Cognitive Development, and Social Interaction. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24 (6):1106-1106.
    This review proposes that Bloom's linkage of word meaning with more general cognitive capacities could be extended through examination of the social contexts in which children learn. Specifically, the child's developing theory of mind can be viewed as part of the process by which children learn word meanings through engagement in social interactions that facilitate both language and strategic behaviours.
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  49. M. Gareth Gaskell (2000). Modeling Lexical Effects on Phonetic Categorization and Semantic Effects on Word Recognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23 (3):329-330.
    I respond to Norris et al.'s criticism of Gaskell and Marslen- Wilson (1997). When the latter's network is tested in circumstances comparable to the Merge simulations in the target article, it produces the desired pattern of results. In another area of potential feedback in spoken word processing, aspects of lexical content influence word recognition and our network provides a simple explanation of why such effects emerge. It is unclear how such effects would be accommodated by Merge.
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  50. P. T. Geach (1950). On Names of Expressions. Mind 59 (235):388.
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