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Meaning, Thought, and Reality

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Presentation on theme: "Meaning, Thought, and Reality"— Presentation transcript:

1 Meaning, Thought, and Reality
Dr. Najah Aljahdali

2 2.1 Introduction How can we use language to describe the world? Example: describing a movie scene. All languages allow speakers to describe aspects of what they perceive. - I saw Nelson Mandela on TV last night. - We’ve just flown back from Paris.

3 Names allow us to pick out those specific individuals and specific places. Referring (denoting) is the action of picking and identifying with words such as King Abdullah (refer to a person), Paris (refer to a place), etc. Referent: the entity referred to (Nelson Mandela, Paris).

4 Lyons’ Distinction Denoting Referring
Is used for the relationship between a linguistic expression and the world. (A room denotes certain classes of items). Is used for the action of a speaker in picking out entities in the world. (A room refers to things in the world). Denoting is a property of words. Referring is what speakers do. Denoting is a stable relationship in a language which is not dependent on any use of a word. Reference is a moment-by-moment relationship: what entity somebody refers to by using the word room depends on the context.

5 Two approaches of meaning a. Referential (denotational) b
Two approaches of meaning a. Referential (denotational) b. Representational

6 a. Referential (denotational) approach
a. Referential (denotational) approach is the action of putting words into relationship with the world is meaning, so that to provide a semantic description for a language we need to show how the expressions of language can ‘hook onto’ the world.

7 a. 1 by showing how they relate to situations (sentences/nouns)
a.1 by showing how they relate to situations (sentences/nouns). Nouns (meaningful) denote entities in the world. Sentences (meaningful) because they denote situations and events. -There is a club in Grafton Street. - There isn’t a club in Grafton Street.

8 Two situations describe different situations
Two situations describe different situations. Incompatible (one of them is false)

9 b. Representational approach
b. Representational approach is the ability to talk about the world which depends on our mental models of it. (a theory about reality). - A speaker can choose to view the same situation in different ways. -a. Joan is sleeping. (Activity) b. Joan is asleep. (a state).

10 Such situations are by a language’s conventional way of viewing situations  A language’s conventional way of viewing situations  English: You have a cold. (possession) (possession) عندي بردHDA: Somali: ‘A cold has you.’ (possession) Irish: ‘A cold is on you.’(location)

11 (situation) Possession/location different conceptualizations influence the description of the real-world situations. Such a way of viewing reality as influenced by the conceptual structures conventionalized in our language can be termed as representational.

12 In representational approaches, meaning derives from language being a reflection of our conceptual structures.

13 2.2 Reference 2.2.1 Types of reference
In this section we will talk about the ways that words may be used to refer. Confined to nominals. Why? a. Referring expressions and non-referring expressions: 1. A referring expression identify an entity: cat, door, etc.

14 2. Non-referring expressions can never be used to refer: such, very, if, etc. (they contribute to meaning but they can never identify entities in the real world). Exceptional cases: - They performed a cholecystechtomy this morning. (referring expression to an individual operation). - A cholecystechtomy is a serious procedure. ( not a referring expression: generic interpretation).

15 Same case on the level of sentences as well
Same case on the level of sentences as well. What about the nominal The President of the United States?

16 b. Constant versus variable reference: 1
b. Constant versus variable reference: 1. Constant reference are expressions that have the same referent across a range of utterance: the Eiffel Tower, the Red Sea, etc. 2. Variable reference are expressions that have their reference totally dependent on context. - I wrote to you. (variable ref.) - She put it in my office. (variable ref.)

17 c. Referents and extensions: 1
c. Referents and extensions: 1. A referent of an expression is the thing picked out by uttering the expression in a particular context The referent of The capital of Saudi Arabia is the city of Riyadh. 2. An extension of an expression is the set of things which could possibly be the referent of that expression. The extension of the word city will be the set of all cities.

18 See you next class 

19 2.2.2 Names Names are labels for people, places, etc. They often seem to have little other meaning. Karl Marx  Context is important in the use of names. Adel Imam (Egyptian comedian) The speaker assumes that the hearer can identify the (Egyptian comedian).

20 How do names work? a. Description theory A shorthand for knowledge about the referent. (associating the name with the right description) How do names work? b. Causal theory Names are socially inherited or borrowed. -Depends on the social knowledge in the use of names. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him)

21 2.2.3 Nouns and noun phrases (NPs)
1. Definite/indefinite NPs can be used to refer. 2. They can operate like names to pick out, let’s say, an individual. - a. I spoke to a woman about the noise. -b. I spoke to the woman about the noise. (previously identified to the listener) (implicature)

22 3. Definite NPs can form definite descriptions where the referent is whoever/whatever fits the description. - She has a crush on the captain of the hockey team. 4. the referent is no referent to fit the description: The King of France is bald.

23 5. NPs could be used to refer to not real referents: The man in the iron mask was brave.

24 6. NPs can refer to groups of individuals either: 6
6. NPs can refer to groups of individuals either: 6.a Distributively: where the focus on the individual members of the group. The people in the lift avoided each other’s eyes. 6.b Collectively: when the focus is on the aggregate. The people in the lift proved to be too heavy for the lift motor.

25 7. Nominals can denote substances, actions, and abstract ideas
7. Nominals can denote substances, actions, and abstract ideas. - Who can afford coffee? - Sleeping is my hobby. - She has a passion for justice.

26 8. Some nominals are trickier in their denotational behavior
8. Some nominals are trickier in their denotational behavior. No student enjoyed the lecture. No student does not denote an individual who enjoyed the lecture.

27 The meaning of this sentence can be: 1
The meaning of this sentence can be: 1. paraphrased: Of the students, not one enjoyed the lecture. 2. Presented in a logical framework: For each student x, x did not enjoy the lecture.

28 Quantifiers are a class of words that in English includes each, all, none, some, no. Quantifiers allow the speakers the flexibility to predicate something of a whole class of entities. -Every Frenchman would recognize his face. - Some Frenchmen voted for him twice. - A few Frenchmen voted for him.

29 2.3 Reference as a Theory of Meaning
In its simplest form: reference picks out elements in the real world. Proper nouns denote individuals Common names denote sets of individuals Verbs denote actions Adjectives denote properties of individuals Adverbs denote properties of actions

30 Problems with this theory:
It claims that many words have no meaning. Ex: so, very, but, etc. 2. Many nominal expressions used by speakers do not have a referent that exists or has ever existed: unicorn (they are meaningless if they are related to items in the real world).

31 3. There is not always a one-to-one correspondence between a linguistic expression and the item to be identified. - Then in 1981 Anwar El Sadat was assassinated. - Then in 1981 the President of Egypt was assassinated.

32 My neighbor, Pat’s mother, Michael’s wife, the Head of Science at St Helen’s school, etc all refer to the same person but differ in meaning. There is more to meaning than reference. How can we characterize this extra dimension? Sense/reference

33 2.4 Mental Representations 2.4.1 Introduction
Sense of a word is a conceptual representation in an individual’s mind. Sense places a new level between words and the world: a level of mental representation. A noun is said to gain its ability to denote because it is associated with something in the speaker’s/hearer’s mind.

34 What these mental representations are. Images
What these mental representations are? Images. However, problems with common nouns! Variations of images: car, house, etc (experience). The most usual modification of the image theory is to hypothesize that the sense of some words, while mental, is not visual but a more abstract element: a concept.

35 Advantages: 1. A concept might be able to contain the non-visual features. 2. Linguists to pass on some of describing words to psychologists (simple/complex concepts) 

36 See you next class 

37 2.4.2 Concepts A hypothesis: A noun is a combination of its denotation and a conceptual element. This will entitle two questions: 1. What form can we assign to concepts? 2. How do children acquire them, along their linguistic labels?

38 Answer Q1: some concepts are: 1. lexicalized single words or 2
Answer Q1: some concepts are: 1. lexicalized single words or 2. some concepts are described in phrases as seen below: - On the shopping channel, I saw a tool for compacting dead leaves into garden statuary. - We’re designing a device for cooking food by microwaves.

39 Why are some concepts lexicalized while others are not
Why are some concepts lexicalized while others are not? Utility is when we refer to something enough it will be lexicalized (invented and catch on). (encapsulating) A process happening all the time.

40 Answer Q2: Children’s concepts may differ from adults. 1. Underextending concepts: dog (referring to their pets only not the one next door). 2. Overerextending concepts: daddy (referring to every male adult). 3. Children/Adult’s world (items are different!!!).

41 2.4.3 Necessary and sufficient conditions
Concepts can be described by using sets of necessary and sufficient conditions: woman (a list of attributes) - x is a woman if and only if L. Where L is a list of attributes, like: x is human; x is adult; x is a female, etc.

42 Attributes as conditions: Necessary conditions: must be there
Attributes as conditions: Necessary conditions: must be there. Sufficient conditions: a set that is enough to define x In sum, this theory views concepts as lists of bit of knowledge: Problem: 1. not all people share/agree on the same lists. 2. Disagreement on necessary/sufficient conditions. (a three- legged zebra)

43 Because of problems of necessary and sufficient conditions, several theories have been proposed. Rosche et al (the notion of Prototypes).

44 2.4.4 Prototypes Prototypes are central or typical members of a category but then a shading off into less typical or peripheral members. Chair is a more central member of the category FURNITURE than lamp. Through experiment: People tend to agree more readily on typical members than on less typical members. Why?

45 Problems: allows for borderline uncertainty. 2. Cultural rooted differences (ICMs to Lakoff) the Pope vs. bachelor. Dictionary-type definitions/ encyclopedia-type entry of cultural knowledge.

46 Using a word involves combining semantic knowledge and encyclopedic knowledge resulting in typicality effects.

47 2.4.5 Relations between concepts
Relational nature of conceptual knowledge. A crucial element is not the amount of knowledge but its integration into existing knowledge: Peccary (a kind of wild pig) Pecorino (a kind of Italian cheese)

48 Such relations between concepts have been used to motivate models of conceptual hierarchies (inclusion) Fig 2.1 Inclusion a subordinate node inherits attributes from a superordinate node.

49 2.4.6 Acquiring concepts How do we acquire concepts? Ostensive definition thoery (defining be examples): An adult pointing to a dog while walking with a child to make him acquire the concept of DOG.

50 2.5 Words, Concepts, and Thinking
We will discuss two opposing views with their strong and weak versions:

51 2.5.1 Linguistic relativity
Linguistic relativity (Sapir and Whorf) refers to that lexicalized concepts impose restrictions on possible ways of thinking. It provides an explanation for a common experience when dealing with different languages. French pourpe and English purple. (translation: lack of fit between words in 2 diff. languages). put on clothes in English/Japanese.

52 Language mirrors cultural differences
Language mirrors cultural differences. People’s thoughts are determined by the categories available to them in their language. A universal semantic theory?? Can we translate from one language to another with no difficulty? Can we think in different ways? Can we step outside our own language to set up a metalanguage which does not privilege any particular language or language family?

53 2.5.2 The language of thought hypothesis
Language of thought hypothesis maintains that thinking and speaking, while obviously related, involve levels of representation. The idea of linguistic relativity is rejected by many linguists and researchers in cognitive science (study of intelligence which draws on cognitive psychology, computer science and linguistics).

54 Two types of argument that support this view: 1
Two types of argument that support this view: 1.There is evidence of thinking without language. (thinking and language are 2 different things: remembering, reasoning, etc.) Kay and Kempton’s (1984) experiment. [a language of thought ‘Mentalese’] 2. Language underspecifies meaning. (semantics and pragmatics): meaning is richer than language [hearers].

55 The language of thought is universal
The language of thought is universal. Humans have the same mental architecture and mental processes, though they speak different languages.

56 2.5.3 Thought and reality Not included

57 Group Work [Ch. 1]: 1.1 and 1.3 [Ch.2]: 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3 (f)

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