Sunday, June 2, 2013

The False God of Syntax

I am mostly convinced that semantics is hard to study without routinely and repeatedly getting side tracked into considerations of syntax- of form rather than content. For example I spent several days being daunted by the variations in "as (blank) as possible":
 - make it as low as possible
- make it low as far as possible
 - make it as close to the implant as possible
 - make it as close as possible to the implant.
These variations are not on behalf of a subtle meaning. They are, I think, almost entirely on behalf of being poetic. 

But most people's vision of meaning recognition is syntax recognition plus statistics. I think that is wrong. 
My sense is that the best approach to meaning recognition in text is to have a clear sense of the meanings and to simply fill them in from the text. But one tends to get suckered into thinking about syntax instead. I was reading a supposedly wise discussion of such things on and they were talking about the difficulty of handling the word "run" which has more meanings than any other word in the English language.
I think they are doing this backwards. It is easy to be fooled into thinking about form not content.