Modified occam's razor: Parsimony, pragmatics, and the acquisition of word meaning

Mind and Language 20 (3):288–312 (2005)
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Abstract

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.

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Thomas Bontly
University of Connecticut

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