Locke’s claim that the primary signification of (most) words is an idea, or complex of ideas, has received different interpretations. I support the majority view that Locke’s notion of primary signification can be construed in terms of linguistic meaning. But this reading has been seen as making Locke’s account vulnerable to various criticisms, of which I consider two. First, it appears to make the account vulnerable to the charge that an idea cannot play the role that a word (...) class='Hi'>meaning should play. I argue that the role Locke actually gives to signified ideas is not susceptible to this criticism. Second, it appears to make Locke guilty of at least some degree of semantic idealism. I argue that Locke is not guilty of this and that he makes a proper distinction between the non-referential relation that holds between a word and its primary signification and the referential relation that holds between a word and things the word is used to speak about. (shrink)
Discussion of Berkeley’s theory of language has largely ignored what he says about the ‘meaning’ of a general word. Berkeley distinguishes the meaning of a general word both from the extension of the word and from what the word might suggest in the mind of the language user. D. Flage has argued that Berkeley has an ‘extensional’ theory of meaning, but this is based on passages where Berkeley does not speak of word meaning. When Berkeley explicitly (...) discusses the meaning of particular words he does so with a view to explicating the sense in which a word is to be understood. Berkeley made a series of insightful distinctions when discussing words and their use, and these distinctions are of contemporary interest. (shrink)
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 lexicon, as outlined in the Generative Lexicon theory (Pustejovsky, 1995), which proposes a unified model for defining word meaning. The individual contributors present their evidence for a generative approach as well as critical perspectives, which provides for a volume where word meaning is not viewed only from a particular angle or from a particular concern, but from a wide variety of topics, each introduced and explained by the editors. (shrink)
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.
I focus on Barry C. Smith’s investigations in the phenomenology of speech, and on his ambitious, unified theory of both sub-personal and first-personal linguistic knowledge (2008, 2009). I argue that empirical hypotheses about our awareness of word meaning challenge the starting points of his phenomenology of speech, as they require both (1) modifications of his proposed theory of speakers experiences of word meaning, and (2) clarifications of what the phenomenology of speech teaches us and why.
The hypothesis that perceptual mechanisms could have more representational and logical power than usually assumed is interesting and provocative, especially with regard to brain evolution. However, the importance of embodiment and grounding is exaggerated, and the implication that there is no highly abstract representation at all, and that human-like knowledge cannot be learned or represented without human bodies, is very doubtful. A machine-learning model, Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) that closely mimics human word and passage meaning relations is offered as (...) a counterexample. (shrink)
Almost all words are the names of categories. We can learn most of our words (and hence our categories) from dictionary definitions, but not all of them. Some have to be learned from direct experience. To understand a word from its definition we need to already understand the words used in the definition. This is the “Symbol Grounding Problem” . How many words (and which ones) do we need to ground directly in sensorimotor experience in order to be able to (...) learn all other words via definition alone? The answer may shed some light both on the developmental origin of word meanings and on the evolutionary origin and adaptive value of language. We used an algorithm to reduce each of our dictionaries (Longmans LDOCE, Cambridge CIDE and WordNet) to its “grounding kernel” (“Kernel”) (which turned out to be about 10% of the dictionary) by systematically eliminating.. (shrink)
This book is an excellent and accessible overview of the position that children learn the meanings of words by applying a variety of nonlinguistic cognitive tools to the problem. We take issue with Bloom's emphasis on Theory of Mind as an explanatory mechanism for language learning; and with his claim that only unitary objects are nameable.
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 not special to word learning. This proposal is an alternative to the view that word learning is the result of simple associative learning mechanisms, and it rejects as well the notion that children possess constraints, either innate or learned, that are specifically earmarked for word learning. This theory is extended to account for how children learn names for objects, substances, and abstract entities, pronouns and proper names, verbs, determiners, prepositions, and number words. Several related topics are also discussed, including naïve essentialism, children's understanding of representational art, the nature of numerical and spatial reasoning, and the role of words in the shaping of mental life. Key Words: cognitive development; concepts; meaning; semantics; social cognition; syntax; theory of mind; word learning. (shrink)
Jizang sets forth a hermeneutical theory of “one name, infinite meanings” that proposes four types of interpretation of word meaning to the effect that a nominal word X means X, non-X, the negation of X, and all things whatsoever. In this article, I offer an analysis of the theory, with a view to elucidating Jizang's thought on meaning and reference and considering its contemporary significance. The theory, I argue, may best be viewed as an expedient means for telling (...) us how to use words provisionally without any definite understanding of their referents. (shrink)
Recent work in relevance-theoretic pragmatics develops the idea that understanding verbal utterances involves processes of ad hoc concept construction. The resulting concepts may be narrower or looser than the lexical concepts which provide the input to the process. Two of the many issues that arise are considered in this paper: (a) the applicability of the idea to the understanding of metaphor, and (b) the extent to which lexical forms are appropriately thought of as encoding concepts.
Advocates of linguistic pragmatics often appeal to a principle which Paul Grice called Modified Occam's Razor: 'Senses are not to be multiplied beyond necessity'. Superficially, Grice's principle seems a routine application of the principle of parsimony ('Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity'). But parsimony arguments, though common in science, are notoriously problematic, and their use by Griceans faces numerous objections. This paper argues that Modified Occam's Razor makes considerably more sense in light of certain assumptions about the processes (...) involved in language acquisition, and it describes recent empirical findings that bear these assumptions out. The resulting account solves several difficulties that otherwise confront Grice's principle, and it draws attention to problematic assumptions involved in using parsimony to argue for pragmatic accounts of linguistic phenomena. (shrink)
In this paper I investigate how works of fine art differ from products of craft. I argue that historical and institutional definitions are incomplete becausethey fail to explain what is common to everything we call art. I then consider the way in which Francis J. Kovach and Jacques Maritain define art. I argue thatKovach’s four-fold division fails on logical grounds. Maritain’s division, however, makes the distinction between fine and useful art a matter of degree, not a division into separate species. (...) This does reflect our use of the word art, and means that, when we call something a work of fine art, we are not designating it as part of a species. Rather we signify that it possesses a particular attribute which, in some way, belongs to every product of human making, but is more clearly present, or more attended to, in works of fine art. (shrink)
Bloom's book can be viewed as a long argument for an anti-Whorfian conclusion. According to Bloom, word learning is usually a process of mapping new words to pre-existing concepts. But an exception to this generalization – the learning of words from linguistic context – poses a problem for Bloom's anti-Whorfian argument.
The expression 'platonism in mathematics' or 'mathematical platonism' is familiar in the philosophy of mathematics at least since the use Paul Bernays made of it in his paper of 1934, 'Sur le Platonisme dans les Mathématiques'. But he was not the first to point out the similarities between the conception of the defenders of mathematical realism and the ideas of Plato. Poincaré had already stressed the 'platonistic' orientation of the mathematicians he called'Cantorian', as opposed to those who (like himself) were (...) 'pragmatist' ones. I examine in this paper some very perplexing aspects of the use which is made at that time of a number of concepts, particularly 'idealism' (which generally designates what we would call 'mathematical realism') and 'empiricism' (which can designate almost any form of antirealism, even if, like for example intuitionism, it is not empiricist at all). There are, of course, historical reasons that may explain why it was for a time so easy and natural to use the words and the concepts in a way that may seem now very strange and to treat as if they were equivalent the two oppositions: realism/antirealism and idealism/empiricism. (shrink)
The expression 'platonism in mathematics' or 'mathematical platonism' is familiar in the philosophy of mathematics at least since the use Paul Bernays made of it in his paper of 1934, 'Sur le Platonisme dans les Math?matiques'. But he was not the first to point out the similarities between the conception of the defenders of mathematical realism and the ideas of Plato. Poincar? had already stressed the 'platonistic' orientation of the mathematicians he called 'Cantorian', as opposed to those who (like himself) (...) were 'pragmatist' ones. I examine in this paper some very perplexing aspects of the use which is made at that time of a number of concepts, particularly 'idealism' (which generally designates what we would call 'mathematical realism') and 'empiricism' (which can designate almost any form of antirealism, even if, like for example intuitionism, it is not empiricist at all). There are, of course, historical reasons that may explain why it was for a time so easy and natural to use the words and the concepts in a way that may seem now very strange and to treat as if they were equivalent the two oppositions: realism/antirealism and idealism/empiricism. (shrink)
I am in the process of refining my doctorate thesis objective, having battled through a Master’s degree in the Philosophy of Language. The doctoral issue, of course, has many facets: political, academic, locational, and financial. But the topic relevant to this paper is the issue of “interpretation” raised by Lonergan in the third section of chapter 17 of Insight . The challenge of this paper (and this volume) is to lift that section into the context of hodic conversion.