How words get their meaning

How words get their meaning
hughsmith23
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#11 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Feb 27, 2013 - 6:06 PM:

brain in a vat wrote:
Yes. That's how I think it works.

You have to start thinking of the sentence as the unit of language rather than the word; or even something bigger than the sentence, like the conversation. A sentence means a certain thing which is different from a collection of words:

on

boy's

apple

an

head

a

Means something different from the sentence: 'An apple on a boy's head". What does that sentence "mean"? Something other than the words which make it up? Is it possible to think "an apple on a boy's head" without access to language; no, if anything, it would be possible to think "that apple on that boy's head" (e.g. in a situation, if you were confronted by a boy with an apple on his head). What does "a" mean outside of language? I think what happens is that we hear someone say "a" and then we learn what that means, from the word use . We don't think "ah! I was formulating a similar concept!"

baden511
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#12 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Feb 28, 2013 - 4:03 AM:

brain in a vat wrote:
What refutation? I don't see that as a refutation.

Take a closer look. The word "ouch" is clearly not constantly conjoined with pain.

brain in a vat wrote:

I not advocating a behavioris position. No where in my theory does it mention reward and punishment.


Your conjunction idea mirrors the theory that classical conditioning can account for how we come to understand a word's meaning i.e. by association. Remember Pavlov and his dogs? They salivated as their food was brought to them and on associating the sound of a bell with the food were conditioned to salivate at the sound of the bell alone. Similarly, the behaviourists idea is that children when learning meanings are conditioned into associating words with their referents so that, eventually, exposure to the word alone initiates the type of response the referent originally did.

brain in a vat wrote:

A child sees how these words are constantly usesd. 'But' 'the' 'and' are constantly conjoined with their meaning. It's not hard for the child to abstract out their meaning from situations where they are used.


If you have to abstract the meaning out from different situations, there is nothing constant for the words to be conjoined to.

Hanover wrote:

You're providing responses to two different questions: (1) how do we learn to speak? and (2) how do words come to have meaning?


Yes, because it's as we learn to speak that words come to have meaning.
Hanover wrote:

You reject behaviorism as not providing an adequate answer to #1, but do you reject behaviorism in terms of question #2? That is, do you reject the idea that a word's meaning can be derived fully through observation of behavior?


Yes, absolutely.

Hanover wrote:

Your statement that meaning cannot be separated from intentionality might be taken to mean intentionality cannot be derived by observation of behavior.


Sure, there is no sensible answer to the question "What does he/she mean by utterance X?" that doesn't appeal to some aspect of the individual that's not entirely reducible to observable behaviour. If, for example, I'm practicing a phrase from a foreign language that happens to translate as "It's sunny" and I say it over and over again, the most appropriate answer to the question "What does he mean by that?" (spoken, for example, by someone who doesn't understand the language the phrase is uttered in) will be something like "nothing, he's just practicing the phrase 'It's sunny'". If, on the other hand, I say the same phrase in response to the fact that I observe that it's a clear day, the answer to the same question will most appropriately be along the lines of "He means 'It's sunny'". Nothing in my behaviour has to be different across the two examples for the meaning to change but my intentional state does.

Hanover wrote:
If that is the case, then is this an argument that part of language is private?


I think this approach does leave open the possibility of a private language, but I don't think it necessarily entails it.
brain in a vat
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#13 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Feb 28, 2013 - 1:46 PM:

baden511 wrote:

Take a closer look. The word "ouch" is clearly not constantly conjoined with pain.

If a word has more than one meaning, then it is constantly conjoined with all of the meanings depending on the context.


baden511 wrote:
If you have to abstract the meaning out from different situations, there is nothing constant for the words to be conjoined to.
Perhaps 'but' doesn't mean anything apart from context. I don't even know what 'but' means. But I know how to use it. You can know how to use something without knowing what it means.
Dingbat92
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#14 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Feb 28, 2013 - 2:26 PM:

brain in a vat wrote:

Perhaps 'but' doesn't mean anything apart from context. I don't even know what 'but' means. But I know how to use it. You can know how to use something without knowing what it means.


Let's take, as an example, the word 'ubiquitous'. Imagine I said to you that I don't know what the word means, but you recall that you've witnessed me using it many times to describe things that are present or found everywhere. Wouldn't my saying I don't understand what 'ubiquitous' means seem odd to you?
brain in a vat
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#15 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Mar 1, 2013 - 11:19 PM:

Dingbat92 wrote:


Let's take, as an example, the word 'ubiquitous'. Imagine I said to you that I don't know what the word means, but you recall that you've witnessed me using it many times to describe things that are present or found everywhere. Wouldn't my saying I don't understand what 'ubiquitous' means seem odd to you?
Yes, in most cases. But I don't think every word has a meaning. For instance I don't think 'but' adds to the meaning of the sentence. It only structures it.
Rich Vernadeau
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#16 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Mar 1, 2013 - 11:57 PM:

The word "but" means "this is true, HOWEVER...". Similarly the word "if" actually means "in the instance of..." Test my definitions if you disagree or don't believe them.
brain in a vat
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#17 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Mar 2, 2013 - 1:10 AM:

Rich Vernadeau wrote:
The word "but" means "this is true, HOWEVER...". Similarly the word "if" actually means "in the instance of..." Test my definitions if you disagree or don't believe them.

If : Introducing a conditional clause.

But : Used to introduce a statement that contrasts with or seems to contradict something that has been said previously.

You see these definitions? They don't mean anything semantically, they are part of the syntax of the sentence.

I'm talking about the semantic meaning of words, not the syntax.



Edited by brain in a vat on Mar 2, 2013 - 3:59 AM
Banno
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#18 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Mar 2, 2013 - 3:56 PM:

"But" is a conjunction - it translates as "and".
uvohtfo
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#19 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Mar 4, 2013 - 1:47 AM:

Isn't talking about the meaning of a word confused from the start?

What is a 'meaning' of a word? There is no 'meaning' that words have. Words are just shapes on paper or computer screens. That is all they are.

Words are used by people to change other people's behavior. When someone asks "Where is the cereal?" my behavior is plausibly changed to one driven to help someone find cereal. If I know where the cereal is, I say the words that will help them find what they want, maybe the words 'on the left, top shelf.' From there their behavior has changed from seeking help from me, to acquiring the cereal from where they now know to look. The words in that context correspond to specific things, but in different contexts they correspond to different things.

I think this is a better idea of what words are. Words are not bearers of meaning. They aren't like glasses filled with content, or truthhood. They are more like tools which dig into people and change them. If someone says to me "hey jerk!" I don't analyze the accuracy of the statement. Indeed if all we needed to do to handle an insult was to judge its factual nature we would never be insulted at all. When someone says "hey jerk!" to me, I feel bad, simply because that's what the words do to me.

Being like real tools, and their use is not universal.

As brain in a vat puts it "If a word has more than one meaning, then it is constantly conjoined with all of the meanings depending on the context"

His point is closer to the mark, but it's not there yet. It still seems to leave readers with the impression that there are 'meanings' out there. If a word just has a specific context, and is only used in that context, that is all there is to be said. If you mean something like, my use of the word 'cheese' was the same as someone else's use of the word 'cheese', then all you are doing is judging them as the same by some exogenous criteria, and the meaning would depend on what we have judged makes the uses the same. Meaning has no place in this discussion.
Rich Vernadeau
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#20 - Quote - Permalink
1 of 1 people found this post helpful
Posted Mar 4, 2013 - 10:13 AM:

Derrida held that words only have meaning in relation to, or opposition to, other words. Referral and deferral are the two terms IIRC.
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