Saturday, August 8, 2015

Theorizing about Semantics (it's a waste of time)

I have to imagine that contributions to semantics are themselves a form of language use that is about as abstract as possible. So I am poking around on the internet and wanting to read contributions to semantics and instead I find authors, one after the other, discussing the validity of one form of semantics versus another. No example of language is analyzed; no new approaches are revealed. They found something even more abstract to talk about!

I have long thought the translation of expressions into "propositions" and the analysis of their "truth properties" was a distraction from the qualification of the meaning of an expression. Usually, expressions mean something about the world - in its wonderful diversity. Little is added in saying the meaning is "true", because this auxiliary meta attribute is not a substitute for the thing itself. Also, very few expressions can be considered "true" - for example anything in a novel.

Rather than getting more and more abstract - going from worldly meaning to "truth", to the meta discussion of semantics, to a meta-meta discussion of what is the "very best-est" of semantic theories  - I regard these as digressions taking us further and further from the subject. I want to study the articulation of the world as expressed by people. You cannot do that if you spend your time evaluating the semantic theories of other authors.

Though, ironically, I want to ignore my own advice and say: lots of authors are looking at the same set of topics as I am but organizing their ideas in a way I find awkward. It is not that they are wrong but that they are clumsy. But I want to say I think modern semantics is mostly off in the weeds of "meta discussion", doing the wrong kind of work and not advancing us towards a goal of automated language comprehension.

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