Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Moving Topic

The Moving Topic is the hypothesis that grammar and syntax are largely irrelevant for the analysis of meaning and that, instead, one needs to consider the accumulation of information and projected expectation that occurs, word by word, as an expression is being understood. The current state of such information and expectation is called the "moving topic". According to best model reasoning, there can be multiple simultaneous instances of different moving topics, when there is ambiguity. The multiplicity gets narrowed down or broadened as the moving topic progresses. Hopefully, resolved to a single possible meaning as the moving topic gets to a point where the ambiguity is resolved. I want to call this hypothesis a neo-Whorfian (or anti-Chomskian) hypothesis.

As far as I can tell the words "grammar" and "syntax" do not have a clear definition. So the following theorem is, in turn, not particularly clear but here it is:

Any grammatical rule, related to the proper formation of sentences can be replaced by a rule for how the moving topic changes and is resolved. 

In terms of translating expressions into meaning, this means that benefits from studying grammar are a subset of benefits from studying the moving topic. As such, who cares what the words "syntax" and "grammar" mean?

But parenthetically if grammar and syntax are irrelevant for meaning, what are they for? I say: for a poetic pleasant sound. Consider for example the two phrases: "floods maroon thousands" vs "flood maroons thousands".  It is simpler to think the "s" at the end of "floods"/"maroons" as having poetic use but no semantic purpose. [Another: "plants you seeded" versus "seeds you planted".] Rules of grammar and syntax become aesthetic rules, divorced (at least a bit) from semantics.

I propose this extreme anti-Chomskian view, not because I know it is true, but because it is easier to work from in the analysis of narrow world expressions. In this extreme approach one also denies the usefulness of the general concept of "language". Rather than working with a pure, ideal, Platonic concept, it is easier to deny such idealization and focus, instead, on "expression" and the anthropology of how people express themselves.

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