Thursday, May 1, 2008

Meaning: The Strawman

Do we suppose that when we learn a language we learn the meanings of words? Meanings are sometimes given explicitly as when we define words for children, e.g., answer the question “What does X mean”?. But most of the words we learn are not learned through explicit definition. Does a word have to have a meaning (or a referent) to be comprehended or used successfully? Are meanings what makes language work? Many analysts of linguistic behavior seem to suggest that this is the case. Let us call this the simplified strawman theory of meaning. (SSTM)

Is it supposed that words without specific referents must have meanings and that these meanings are somehow formulated and internalized when we learn a language and serve as determinants of semantic aspects of linguistic behavior. Somehow, evidently, we are suppose to abstract the meanings of non-referential words and utilize these meaning things in our subsequent linguistic behavior. But maybe e just rely on multiple exposures to a word, numerous instantiations of correct usage and base subsequent performance on this.

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