Abstract in English:Abstract In this introduction we present Patrick Duffley's book Linguistic Meaning meets Linguistic Form, as well as the contributions that each scholar has brought into the debate on linguistic meaning and form. They deal with semantic and foundational issues regarding a sign-based approach to meaning.
Abstract in English:Abstract The aim of this commentary is to underpin Duffley’s notion of a stable mental content that corresponds to the literal word meaning with a computationally plausible cognitive theory. Our approach is to investigate what these stable contents could be according to the so-called Predictive Processing architecture. We argue that recent advances in cognitive science can make at least two contributions to the debate. First, they can provide some underpinning of Duffley's ideas of a stable linguistic meaning associated with the sign. Second, they provide resources to understand how the semiological principle is compatible with a dynamic and flexible notion of "meaning".
Abstract in English:Abstract My notion of stable word meaning could correspond either to the root-node or the whole of a neurally-organized package and acknowledge that linguistic processing is largely holistic. The existence of words as context-free entities is not just a “cognitive idealization” however but a necessity, as otherwise speakers would have to make up their words on the spot. Holistic language processing undermines a sequential processing paradigm (first linguistic, then pragmatic). However, my model is only sequential in that linguistic-semantic units pre-exist their use and does not entail that a whole sentence must be assembled before pragmatic processing starts. The authors falsely suggest that I do not endorse a distinction between semantics and pragmatics. While I do argue that this distinction cannot be based on the sentence/utterance distinction, I hold that a clear dividing-line can be drawn between semiologically-signified and non-semiologically-signified content. I disagree that “even highly abstract, monosemic words like any should be seen as embodied, ” so that the mental process of random selection must be construed “in (complex) sensorimotor terms”. While one can form an image of someone picking out an apple from a basket, one cannot argue that one must do so in order to use any.
Abstract in English:Abstract In this paper I critically address some ideas presented in Patrick Duffley’s book Linguistic Meaning Meets Linguistic Form. Duffley adopts the semiological principle that linguistic signs have stable meanings. I argue that this principle leads Duffley to an artificial description of the meaning of the preposition for, in attempting to avoid the charge of polysemy. Another issue is that the principle is not consistently followed throughout the book, such as in Duffley’s analysis of the meaning of start, or in his acceptance of words with encyclopedic meanings. I also point out that the proposed meaning of start and the view that the meaning of some words is encyclopedic have problems of their own.
Abstract in English:Abstract Infiltration of a word’s meaning by world-knowledge is argued to be consistent with the semiological principle. While acknowledging variability in what people know about elephants, there is a common core of what everybody knows that we know we can evoke in anybody’s mind; this constitutes the meaning of the word “elephant”. Regarding truth-conditional semantics, to say that the difference between “dog” and canis familiaris “is not a semantic difference; it is not a difference in what they mean” is to equate meaning with truth-value. This would entail that the complex NP direct object in “I took the four-legged fur-bearing carnivorous animal that barks out for a walk” would have the same meaning as the noun “dog”. From a linguistic point of view, this is completely indefensible. My criticism that the truth-conditional approach erroneously takes sentences to be the basic sign/meaning unit is not obviated by the fact that truth-conditional semantics treats sentence meaning as compositional, the point being that sentences are clearly not pairings of sounds with meanings since they do not have stable meanings which could be paired off with their linguistic forms. This is argued to be the case even if one defines meaning as Logical Form.
Abstract in English:Abstract In this paper we suggest that Duffley’s sign-based semantics rests on two main claims: a methodological one and an ontological one. The methodological one is the analysis of corpora and the ontological one is the postulate of mental content. By adopting a linguistic enactivist perspective with a Wittgensteinian twist, we endorse Duffley’s methodological claim and suggest that a sign-based semantics doesn’t have to rely on mental content if it takes into account the conception of meaningful material engagement in cognitive archeology and its development into sign-using as an enactive capacity.
Abstract in English:Abstract The enactivist position adopted by Figueiredo and Cuffari is argued to represent a return to a form of behaviorism which denies that mental content is constitutive of the meaning of linguistic signs in favour of the view that language is first and foremost a physical activity based on shared practices of bodily behaviour. This view is shown to be highly problematic, as it is unable to account for the fact that certain mental experiences have characteristic qualia that cannot be reduced to practices of bodily behaviour, nor for the fact that children’s linguistic abilities are radically underdetermined by the verbal behaviour to which they are exposed in the short period in which they develop these abilities. The Wittgensteinian view of ‘meaning as use’ adopted in the paper is subjected to a reductio ad absurdum, as it basically entails that there are no pots, but only uses of pots. The nature of the human mind, as attested to by quantum theory, Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and natural language itself are argued to demonstrate that it cannot be reduced to the purely material level.
Abstract in English:Abstract This study offers an innovative, sign-based analysis of English self pronouns (myself, yourself, herself, etc.). While rejecting the traditional characterization of these forms as reflexive pronouns, the study borrows from the tradition by analyzing these forms as a kind of emphatic pronoun. The forms’ distribution can be explained by positing that they are semantic signals deployed by speakers to meet communicative goals. Speakers choose between self and simple pronouns when the additional meaning of self forms, INSISTENCE ON AN ENTITY(S), will steer hearers in particular interpretive directions. This approach has led to the discovery that reflexive uses of self pronouns are an instantiation of the general tendency to use these forms for unexpected messages, including those in which a single referent is playing more than one role at one time. The presence of such a role conflict accounts not only for reflexive uses, but also for the appearance of self pronouns in picture noun phrases, logophoric contexts, and other previously unexplained exceptions to the structural reflexivity account.
Abstract in English:Abstract Stern’s Columbia School Theory contribution on English self-pronouns provides a wonderful illustration of the explanatory power of an approach that refuses to be taken in by a priori grammatical categories like reflexivity, which have the unfortunate consequence of giving the analyst the impression that he or she already knows all about the semantics of the form under study before looking at real usage, and attempts rather to uncover the semantic content of the linguistic sign -self based on careful observation and deep reflection on what might explain the way this sign is used in English. Stern shows that a purely syntactic account is unable to account for the fact that self-pronouns occur not only in syntactically reflexive environments, but also in non-reflexive ones, and conversely that simple pronouns also appear in both types of contexts. A faint glimmer of the structuralist origins of Columbia School Theory shows through in one case however.
Abstract in English:Abstract I argue that Duffley’s sign-based semantics and embodied semantics may be mutually beneficial if we conceive them as a semantic theory and as a foundational theory, respectively. First, I describe embodied semantics as a research program that conceives the foundations of meaning in terms of embodied simulation. Afterwards, I draw attention to three points (the analysis of FOR, verbs of positive and negative recall, and causative verbs) where Duffley’s semantics could find support in such a foundational theory. Finally, I suggest that two pressing challenges currently on the agenda of embodied semantics (abstract language and sentence-level simulations) could be met by Duffley’s theory.
Abstract in English:Abstract Sign-based semantics and embodied semantics are argued to be mutually beneficial to one another. However, while the body does shape our cognitive activities to a great extent, this does not entail that cognition can be reduced to sensorimotor simulation, i.e that the mind can be reduced to the body. Language itself bears testimony to this, as the mind is construed in ordinary discourse as having the incredible capacity of being free to travel beyond the limits of present time and current spatial location. Nagel has argued famously that mind is a fundamental datum of nature that the materialist version of evolutionary biology is unable to account for, as consciousness has an essentially subjective character to it, a ‘what it is like for the conscious organism itself’ aspect, that cannot be reduced to the matter of which the organism is constituted. Two modern scientific developments refute the contention that the human mind can be explained as a purely material machine: quantum theory in physics and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem in mathematics. Just because the mind works through the body does not entail that the mind can be reduced to the body.
Abstract in English:Abstract In this brief note, I offer some considerations to the effect of arguing (i) that Duffley's criticism to formal semantics is based on a dogma about the proper nature of the linguistic sing, and (ii) that, even when I agree with the general spirit of his realizational theory of meaning, an explicit theory of how syntax affects meanings realization is missing.
Abstract in English:Abstract In reply to the claim that syntax is not taken into account in Linguistic Meaning Meets Linguistic Form, I show that local syntactic analysis has been implemented in the treatment of aspectual verbs and verbs of positive and negative recall, where the syntactic function of the -ing form as direct object of the main verb is put into relation with the main verb’s meaning as the basis for the inferences drawn concerning the temporal relation between the main verb’s event and that expressed by the complement. I argue that I have also developed new tools of syntactic analysis for the to-infinitive, demonstrating that it is not the direct object of the main verb, but rather a goal- or result-specifier, and showing how this accounts for the fact that its event is always understood to be somehow subsequent to that of the main verb. Regarding the applicability of formal semantics to natural language, I argue that the absolute priority accorded to the truth-functional dimension of language by this type of semantics leads to the artificial separation of use-conditions from truth-conditions, with the former being treated as an additional interpretational function added on to the truth-functional one. Contra the autonomous syntax claim that our desire to express meaning is to a great extent independent of the means we use to express those meanings, it is argued that how we perceive the world in our experience is influenced by our system of linguistic representation.