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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Expression of a connected meaning

Words alone do not have a meaning (as already noted even within Western Philosophy, see the preface of Gottlob Frege's Grundlagen der Arithmetik). But to assume that sentences have a meaning independent of the words composing them, leads to further unwanted assumptions (for instance: why do you understand this sentence, although you never encountered it before?).

A possible way out is the Prābhākara theory of the "expression of a connected meaning" (anvitābhidhāna), according to which words convey a meaning which is related to that of the other words in the sentence. In this way, for instance, in "Bring the cow with a stick!" the meaning of the word "Bring!" would be expressed only once connected with the word "cow" and the word "stick". It is in this way that we can account for the different meaning of "stick" in this sentence and in "Please check fluid level by using the DIP stick which is located in the back of VMI monitors".

However, an opponent may ask:

Does the expression of a connected [sentence-meaning] (anvitābhidhāna) occur [for each word] through [a meaning] expressed (abhihita) by another word (pada) or not expressed? (TR III, 5.2.2.1)

If in "Bring the cow with a stick" the word "cow" would depend on the meaning expressed by "bring" to express its meaning, the the opposite would hold too. Hence, no one of them would be able to start expressing its meaning!

On the other hand, if every single word would express its meaning as already connected to the others, then through "cow" alone, we should understand "cow/connected with the action of bringing/and connected with a stick". Hence, a single word would be enough!

How can one defeat this two rejoinders? Perhaps in the first case by upholding a simultaneous expression of the meaning through all words?

2 comments:

michael reidy said...

The problem with the empiricist view of learning is - how do you teach grammar? The sense that emerges through all the interconnection of the words is not 'another' thing to be taught but operates at a different level. It might be expected that we extract grammar and that the extraction is a form of readiness, a window that is open for a certain length of time in the life of the child which if it is not activated, lapses, and causes grave difficulties in the learning of a language. This seems to be shown in the case of 'wild' children who have been reared by animals. What of sign language? It amuses me that there is different sign languages for every verbal language. We need esperanto signing there. Could 'wild' children learn signs? Are there genius chimps that have learned hundreds of signs or is that the imagination of the psychologist who has become like any other pet owner? We confirm their grammar like we do with children and that is positive reinforcement.

elisa freschi said...

Michael, you seem to be using "grammar" in two differents meanings. In the first case ("…how do you teach grammar?"), you seem to mean "formal grammar" (the teachings about nominative case, perfect tense, etc.), in the second case (lack of grammar in the case of 'wild' children) you seem to mean "natural grammar" (the ability one naturally has in one's own native language). I am inclined to think that your suggestion is absolutely right as far as the second (it seems that if you don't learn it before X years, you will never do). But this kind of grammar one learns naturally, without needing an explicit training. On the other hand, formal grammar might just be extrapolated a posteriori.

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