|From:||Thomas Johnston <tmj44p@xxxxxxx>|
|Date:||Sat, 19 Sep 2015 16:18:14 +0000 (UTC)|
(This is my second and last catch-up post.)
The research of yours that you mention is right in my own field of interests. I would appreciate any url links you have to that work.
Concerning the "drift" of "semantic fields" that you refer to, the question that interests me is "What causes the drift?" I think that perhaps there are two things that account for it.
The second, derivative, factor is statistical. Semantics in a language is derivative on, ultimately, the state of each individual's semantic net at a point in time. Continuities in those semantic net states over time and over small to large communities of speakers are the necessary condition of the use of language to communicate. Those statistical patterns are periodically formalized in both general and special-purpose dictionaries, whose definitions are based on guesses that lexicographers make about the statistical patterns in those states over person and over time, and the aggregate state reached in a given language community at the point in time the definitions are formulated.
The first, basic, factor is the plasticity of the human brain. Over time, and under the influence of what we read and of our verbal communications with others, we evolve neurally-based dispositions to use, and to accept as valid, pairs of words/expressions.
At the weaker end of the dispositional spectrum for a given pair of expressions, we have dispositions that correspond to statements expressing supposedly factual regularities. These are Kant's synthetic a posteriori statements, empirical generalizations open to revision.
At the stronger end of the dispositional spectrum, we have dispositions that correspond to statements expressing accepted linguistic conventions. These are Kant's analytic a priori statements, ones not open to revision (except by revising the semantic rules the statements express).
This dispositional spectrum is what accounts for the analytic/synthetic continuum, and what explains why, as Quine demonstrated, there is no analytic/synthetic dichotomy (thus nailing shut the coffin of logical positivism).
Which brings to mind an example provided by A. J. Ayer. He used the statement "Loadstones attract iron" as an example, and suggested, quite reasonably, that this statement must have begun life as an empirical generalization, but ended up as an analytic statement, reflected in the fact that we just wouldn't count anything as a loadstone if it didn't attract iron.
In an example I discussed in my dissertation, a semantic key to the debate between pro- and anti-abortion advocates is whether or not a fertilized human egg is a human being. For anti-abortionists (at least those of a religious persuasion), "A fertilized human egg is a human being" is what Kripke would classify as an analytic a posteriori statement -- analytic because no empirical evidence would be counted by them as evidence against the statement, and a posteriori because it is about "matter of fact".
Reverting to Ayer's example, the semantic drift of the pair "loadstones" and "attract iron" was driven to an increasingly strong disposition to disallow counter-examples. Certainly this semantic drift ended up with the disposition to disallow counter-examples first in the scientists of that day, then eventually in the wider community of speakers. The drift, for this pair of expressions, was driven by the increasing scarcity of statements purportedly expressing counter-examples. Each person's semantic net evolved over time from a state in which counter-example statements would be at least considered, to a state in which they were no longer considered.
For each such person, over time, patterns of linguistic usage strengthened the connection between the two terms until the statements expressing those connections became "true by definition". Across increasingly wider linguistic communities, the statistical aggregation force led to lexicographic revisions of the relevant dictionaries.
But this drift across the dispositional strength spectrum is not itself free. "Loadstones" and "attract iron" are each connected with a large number of other potentially co-occurring expressions, some of which would pull (via the dynamism of neural connectivity) against that particular drift of that particular pair of expressions. And so I reach a pale wash of neural metaphor over Quine's conceptual holism.
I'd like to know if you can tie this informal description of the proto-theory I have been working on for four decades to academic work you are familiar with.
Regardless, thanks for already responding to my original message to you.
Leo, you asked me, earlier, to clarify some of what I said above, explaining in more current terminology what my interests are, and where they are situated in the corpus of current work. I am busy reading your Geeraerts references right now, and hope, with that, to be able to respond in a week or so.
I have a lot of catching-up to do!
On Saturday, September 19, 2015 12:05 PM, Thomas Johnston <tmj44p@xxxxxxx> wrote:
OK Leo. Here's my re-post, to the forum, of what I've posted earlier to you.
For others, the topic I'm concerned with in these postings is lexical semantics -- the semantics of sub-sentential expressions. Also, I have begun reprising some of my ancient notes on this topic, and they may be difficult to follow because over three decades of work in lexical semantics have taken place since I wrote them. And so there may be terminology I use that needs clarification. Also, my current research in this field is at a rudimentary level, and so there may be developments that, once I am aware of them, will point out the error of my ways.
Contributions from others in this forum with interests in lexical semantics are most welcome.
And so, what I wrote earlier was this:
Thank you for the overview of distributional semantics which, in fact, I was unaware of. Also for the references you provide.
The first thing that comes to mind is that the lexical use patterns which these statistical techniques will certainly reveal / have revealed need a theory, an explanation. Recently, I have gone back to fairly extensive unpublished material which I wrote in the 70's and 80's. Combining it with my current research and notes, I have a corpus of work which I provisionally think might form the basis of such a theory.
Currently, I'm trying to figure out how much of Gardenfors' new book, The Geometry of Meaning, has already anticipated my work on such a theory. Unless you have already concluded (as I nearly have) that his conceptual spaces won't carry all the weight he puts on them, you might find this book of his interesting.
I learned my compositionality lessons from Jerry Fodor's extended development and defense of the Language of Thought. But what still fascinates me is the psychological phenomenon of a child's progression from pointing and naming to his construction of elementary sentences. It seems to me to be one of the miracles/mysteries of human intellectual achievement. I look forward to an ANN account of compositionality, from which point of view Fodor's symbol-based LOT will be seen as an abstract description of what neural networks do, and which will begin the process of removing the mystery from this miracle.
But the semantic forces which account for the statistical patterns discussed in your references are still what interest me the most. I can get into the literature starting from those references, of course; but if there is anything else you know of that is specifically concerned with a theory of lexical meaning (and lexical meaning change), please let me know.
Thanks once again.
(There is one more catch-up post I will publish to the forum, and then we're all starting from the same page.)
On Friday, September 18, 2015 7:50 PM, "Obrst, Leo J." <lobrst@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
[I originally posted this just to you, but we have agreed to share our exchange and invite others into the discussion.]
As you undoubtedly know, recently there’s has been the emergence of so-called “distributional semantics” these days in computational linguistics/NLP. This is based on corpus linguistics, i.e., large-scale statistical, but light-weight “knowledge-based” or formal linguistic/semantic methods.
Distributional semantics: words as “meaning” the contexts/collocations they can occur in, what I consider kind of Witgenstein 2 (Investigations, not Tractatus) in nature.
Some folks are trying to combine distributional semantics with more formal compositional semantics, the latter of which has not focused primarily on lexical semantics, but rather on the composition of words into higher forms and their semantic interpretations, i.e., going back to Montague in the late 1960s. E.g., see [1, 2]. Also, for a good overview of lexical theories, see . For a new type-based approach, see .
However, there are potentially some useful emerging approaches in ontology research, i.e., quality (or value) spaces, and so-called semantic reference spaces/ranges, especially [5-6]. We are using this in our current clinical care healthcare ontology research (forthcoming), which can combine quantitative and qualitative quality value spaces, so that, e.g., nominal qualities (“named” qualities; think of “low/medium/high X”) can be mapped into a quantitative range, though imprecisely, given that you have some ordering on the regions. I am myself thinking of something similar to this for so-called “semantic fields”, i.e., that one can begin to think of these spaces and their points/regions as “drifting” over time.
 Lewis, M., & Steedman, M. 2013. Combining Distributional and Logical Semantics. Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, 1, 179-192. https://tacl2013.cs.columbia.edu/ojs/index.php/tacl/article/view/93.
 Baroni, M., Bernardi, R., & Zamparelli, R. 2014. Frege in space: A program of compositional distributional semantics. Linguistic Issues in Language Technology, 9. http://csli-lilt.stanford.edu/ojs/index.php/LiLT/article/download/6/5.
 Geeraerts, Dirk. 2009. Theories of Lexical Semantics. Oxford University Press.
 Asher, Nicholas. 2011. Lexical Meaning in Context: A Web of Words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2011.
 Probst, F. 2007. Semantic Reference Systems for Observations and Measurements. PhD dissertation, U. Muenster, Germany. http://ifgi.uni-muenster.de/~probsfl/publications/PROBST-Thesis-SemanticReferenceSystemsForObservationsAndMeasurements.pdf.
 Probst, F. 2008. Observations, measurements and semantic reference spaces. Applied Ontology 3 (2008) 63-89.
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