General Semantics

General Semantics - . T W E L V E . General Semantics On...

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. TWELVE. General Semantics On the hypothesis that all natural or artificial languages of interest to us can be given transformational grammars of a certain not-very-special sort, it becomes pos- sible to give very simple general answers to the questions: (1) What sort of thing is a meaning? (2) What is the form of the semantic rules whereby meanings of compounds are built from the meanings of their constituent parts? It is not my plan to make any strong empirical claim about language. To the contrary: I want to propose a convenient format for semantics general enough to work for a great variety of logically possible languages. This paper therefore belongs not to empirical linguistic theory but to the philosophy thereof. My proposals regarding the nature of meanings will not comform to the expec- tations of those linguists who conceive of semantic interpretation as the assignment to sentences and their constituents of compounds of 'semantic markers' or the like.' This paper is derived from a talk given at the Third La Jolla Conference on Linguistic Theory, March 1969. I am much indebted to Charles Chastain. Frank Heny, David Kaplan, George Lakoff, Richard Montague, and Barbara Parree for many valuable criticisms and suggestions. 'Jerrold Katz and Paul Postal, An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Descriptions (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1964), for instance.
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190 Philo~ophy of Language Semantic markers are symbols: items in the vocabulary of an artificial language we may call Semantic Markevese. Semantic interpretation by means of them amounts merely to a translation algorithm from the object language to the auxiliary language Markerese. But we can know the Markerese translation of an English sentence with- out knowing the first thing about the meaning of the English sentence: namely, the conditions under which it would be true. Semantics with no treatment of truth conditions is not semantics. Translation into Markerese is at best a substitute for real semantics, relying either on our tacit competence (at some future date) as speakers of Markerese or on our ability to do real semantics at least for the one language Markerese. Translation into Latin might serve as well, except insofar as the designers of Markerese may choose to build into it useful features-freedom from ambiguity, grammar based on symbolic logic-that might make it easier to do real semantics for Markerese than for Lath2 The Markerese method is attractive in part just because it deals with nothing but symbols: finite combinations of entities of a familiar sort out of a finite set of elements by finitely many applications of finitely many rules. There is no risk of alarming the ontologically parsimonious. But it is just this pleasing finitude that prevents Markerese semantics from dealing with the relations between symbols and the world of non-symbols-that is, with genuinely semantic relations. Accordingly, we should be prepared to find that in a more adequate method, meanings may
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This note was uploaded on 03/01/2008 for the course PHL 332 taught by Professor Dever during the Fall '07 term at University of Texas.

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General Semantics - . T W E L V E . General Semantics On...

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