• Baden
    7.9k
    Or maybe I'm being too linguisticky. Well, that's the way I look at it anyhow.
  • Janus
    7.5k
    Linguistic meaning often can't be analysed in terms of words, but that's not to say a word like "Hello!" doesn't have linguistic meaning. It does. A case where you can't analyse linguistic meaning at the level of a word would be, for example, a phrasal verb. You can't analyze the meaning of "I gave in" by analyzing the meaning of each word in turn for obvious reasons. The appropriate semantic units are "I" + "gave in". In the case of a morpheme, the semantic unit can be less than a word, and in the case of a proverb it can be a whole sentence, and so on. Anyhow, this is all semantics. Context of utterance comes into play later when you consider pragmatics. They're two different levels of analysis.Baden

    Thanks, Baden, I was going to respond with something like, "Yes, but isn't what you say here just standard linguistics?", but then I turned the page and read your next comment.

    The problem I have is that the definition of 'linguistic meaning' is not clear to me, and no one has provided a clear definition. And I haven't studied linguistics.

    The way I was trying to think it through was that if a sentence has a linguistic meaning then it can be analyzed precisely in the way you suggest with "I gave in". .We all know "gave in" means 'surrendered' or 'submitted' or 'stopped trying' and so on. So there is no suggestion that linguistically meaningful (in the way I have been trying to consider it) sentences necessarily have precise meanings, but they seem to partake in a range of 'family meanings'.

    has provided an example of the standard understanding where "Hello" is a sentence. It may be fair to consider it a sentence but I would dispute that it has anything like a range of such meanings.

    It seems that 'Hello' can be anything from a more or less meaningless sound we routinely utter just to begin a conversation on the phone, to "I greet you", " How are you", "I am pleased to see you" "I am not pleased to see you", "Are you there?" , " Is anybody there", "I didn't foresee that", " I am pleased to see that", "Look at that!", and so on. All these different meanings of "hello" are not linguistically determined, that is they are not merely matters of language, but are determined by varying contexts and dispositions. (Of course, I am not saying that all those uses are not linguistically conventional).

    The same may be said to be true of most sentences, at least to some degree, but a sentence like "I fell out of the boat" which could be an expression of fun or deadly danger depending on the context still has a fairly narrowly determinate linguistic meaning, even in the 'abstract', so to speak.

    I'm not trying to be argumentative about this, 'digging my heels in'; I'm just trying to make sense of the notion of linguistic meaning. I mean, if all sentences, or whatever are considered to be the 'units' of meaning in a language are counted as having their meaning sufficiently determined linguistically, then I would seem to be pointlessly arguing against a trivial true tautology.
  • Janus
    7.5k
    But the meaning of the individual word can equally be seen as a template for what it contributes given some context: clearly speakers have this sort of knowledge of the meanings of individual words, or else dictionaries would be literally incomprehensible, let alone writeable.The Great Whatever

    I still think individual words are better thought of as having definitions, references or functions than they are thought of as having meanings, A word does not have a meaning in the way that a sentence does. I acknowledge that 'meaning' can itself be defined in more than one way, but i think it is helpful to make a distinction between 'definition' and 'meaning'.

    Maybe it could be said that definitions are sufficiently determined linguistically, whereas meanings are determined by wider extra-linguistic contexts.
  • Michael
    7.8k
    A word does not have a meaning in the way that a sentence does.John

    And how does this work with polysynthetic languages?
  • Janus
    7.5k


    Why could the example 'word' "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq " not equally be called a 'sentence without any gaps', and the 'morphemes' that make it up 'words'?
  • Michael
    7.8k
    Why could the example 'word' "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq " not equally be called a 'sentence without any gaps', and the 'morphemes' that make it up 'words'?John

    They can be called whatever you like. But why depart from established linguistic terminology? It seems to me that if you want to call that word "a sentence without any gaps" and its morphemes "words" then you're inventing a new linguistic terminology to fit your theory that words don't have meanings (on their own), which makes your theory rather vacuous (as you're (re-)defining a word as something which doesn't have meaning (on its own)).

    And furthermore, such "sentences without any gaps" are present in English, too. They're the word-sentences/sentence-words I've already referenced.
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    Why not go a day without it [truth-telling], or assuming anyone does, and see how far you get?

    Also, it does no good to claim that truth conditional things are often prone to exaggeration, lie, custom, and so on. Insofar as these deviate from truth-telling, their effect only makes sense against the assumption that one isn't lying (in fact, it seems a convention where lying is the default doesn't make sense, since it would become the new truth). Everything you talk about is truth-conditional in the relevant sense, and that includes fictional statements as well, though of course they have a funny sort of internal logic.

    One also wonders what to make of everything you just said to me...or whether in your daily routines, you're never struck by the desire or need to tell anybody anything, or ask anybody to tell you anything. Very odd perspective.
    The Great Whatever

    Sorry for slow response, I'm really busy on a course.

    This is not a sphere I'm well-read in, but there certainly is a big thread of modern-day semantics on my personal to-read list - Sellars, Horwich and Brandom - who are arguing, as I understand it, against a truth-theoretic semantics, and for one form or another of what's known as 'inferential' or 'conceptual role semantics'.

    Your reply moves very quickly to speaking about 'everything' and 'never'. I'm perfectly clear that we're often trying to exchange honestly something-or-other (it might be knowledge, ways of understanding), and I didn't mean to claim otherwise. That's quite different from claiming it's a general rule and that it's about 'truth'.

    Part of what I'm busy studying is the implications of truth-theoretic work - the various forms of logic - so it's not that I'm dismissive of that side of things, I'm keen to learn it, but I'm also keen to understand what if anything underpins it. There is some sort of rule-following in making and then in interpreting assertions or propositions, and it minimally requires plausibility. But what is there beyond that, and a lot of philosophers insisting that well, it just is so? 'Truth matters'?
  • Janus
    7.5k
    They can be called whatever you like. But why depart from established linguistic terminology? It seems to me that if you want to call that word "a sentence without any gaps" and its morphemes "words" then you're inventing a new terminology to fit your theory that words don't have meanings (on their own), which makes your theory rather vacuous.

    And furthermore, such "sentences without any gaps" are present in English, too. They're the word-sentences/sentence-words I've already referenced.
    Michael


    Yes, but the point was: what is the salient distinguishing characteristic between that 'sentence-without-any-gaps-word' and a so-called 'normal' sentence apart from the former's lack of gaps?

    And what are the salient differences between the so-called 'morphemes' that make up that 'word' and the so-called normal words that we understand to make up our so-called sentences?

    Unless you can say what the salient points of distinction are, then I think your example carries no weight.
  • Michael
    7.8k


    I don't understand this. You said that words don't have meanings on their own. I provided an example of a word that has meaning on its own. Your response is to redefine linguistic terminology such that the example I provided isn't a word. Your redefined linguistic terminology is both unjustified and strips any significance from your claim.

    The fact remains that words can, and do, have meanings on their own, as the example shows.
  • Janus
    7.5k


    All I am asking you to do is tell me on the basis of what criteria such 'words' as the exampled 'word-sentences' qualify as words rather than as sentences. Is it merely because there are no gaps between the letters or is there some other criterion?

    In that article you cited, it says that the individual morphemes which make up the 'word-sentence' have "independent meaning" by which I understand that they have definitions, just as what we call 'words' do.

    I have already acknowledged that it can be said that words have meaning "on their own", but that they do not (in general at least) have meanings in the way that sentences do. That is why I think it is better to say that words have definitions, references or functions rather than meanings. The exampled 'word-sentence' has meaning in the kind of way English sentences usually do, and its constituent morphemes have 'meaning' in the kind of way our words usually do, i.e. they have definitions, references and/or functions. So I cannot really see the point of your objection at all. If I am missing something you need to point out what it is; I would be glad of that.

    If you are just 'arguing from convention' and objecting to what you see as my contravention of it, then I don't think we will have a very fruitful discussion. I am more interested in questioning conventions in order to understand the underlying logics.
  • Michael
    7.8k
    All I am asking you to do is tell me on the basis of what criteria such 'words' as the exampled 'word-sentences' qualify as words rather than as sentences. Is it merely because there are no gaps between the letters or is there some other criterion? — John

    You could ask the same thing about the word "unbreakable". Why is it a word and not a gap-free sentence? The sort of things that make "unbreakable" a word are the same sort of things that make "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" a word.

    In that article you cited, it says that the individual morphemes which make up the 'word-sentence' have "independent meaning" by which I understand that they have definitions, just as what we call 'words' do.

    And the same is true of the morphemes "un", "break", and "able". But that doesn't mean that they're not morphemes or that unbreakable is not a word.

    I have already acknowledged that it can be said that words have meaning "on their own", but that they do not (in general at least) have meanings in the way that sentences do.

    But they do. The Yupik word "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" has meaning in the same way that the English sentence "He had not yet said again that he was going to hunt reindeer" has.
  • Janus
    7.5k
    You could ask the same thing about the word "unbreakable". Why is it a word and not a gap-free sentence? The sort of things that make "unbreakable" a word are the same sort of things that make tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq a wordMichael

    Firstly, "unbreakable" does not convey anything other than a definition, so it could not count as a sentence. On the other hand, according to your argument, 'Hehadnotyetsaidagainthathewasgoingtohuntreindeer' could count as a word. But what kind of word is it? Is it a noun, adjective, proposition, pronoun or what? What is its definition?

    And the same is true of the morphemes "un", "break", and "able". But that doesn't mean that they're not morphemes or that unbreakable is not a wordMichael

    'Un' is a morpheme, but 'break' and 'able' are not; they are words. Of course 'unbreakable' is a word: it is a composite word and an adjective.

    But they do. The Yupik word "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" has meaning in the same way that the English sentence "He had not yet said again that he was going to hunt reindeer" has.Michael

    You still haven't given any good reason why it should be considered to be a word; you have merely stipulated it as such.
  • Michael
    7.8k
    'Un' is a morpheme, but 'break' and 'able' are not; they are words. — John

    They're morphemes as well as words. And in Yupik, "ssur", "qatar", "ni", "ksaite", "ngqiggte", and "uq" are morphemes with "tuntu" both morpheme and word.

    You still haven't given any good reason why it should be considered to be a word; you have merely stipulated it as such.

    I don't need to give a good reason. It's simply a fact about linguistic terminology. You can take it up with the people who employ such terminology (i.e. linguists) if you like. So it seems to me that the burden is on you to provide reasons why it shouldn't be considered a word.

    Of course 'unbreakable' is a word

    And of course "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" is a word.

    On your argument, 'Hehadnotyetsaidagainthathewasgoingtohuntreindeer' could count as a word. But what kind of word is it? Is it a noun, adjective, proposition, pronoun or what?

    Anything could be a word, so I don't understand the significance of the question.
  • Janus
    7.5k
    They're morphemes as well as words. And in Yupik, "ssur", "qatar", "ni", "ksaite", "ngqiggte", and "uq" are morphemes with "tuntu" both morpheme and word.Michael

    This is from Wikipedia: "A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word, by definition, is freestanding."

    On that definition 'break' could be considered a morpheme, as well as a word, but then , so what? Why not for simplicity's sake just say it is a non-complex word. And what bearing does all this have on the question of whether it makes sense to count any string of words as a word anyway. You still haven't said why we should grant 'wordhood' to anything that is not identifiable as a conventional word-type.

    I don't need to give a good reason. It's simply a fact about linguistic terminology. You can take it up with the people who employ such terminology (i,e. linguists) if you like. So it seems to me that the burden is on you to provide reasons why it shouldn't be considered a word.Michael

    So, you are merely arguing from conventional authority then? If the linguists say that it should count as a word, then it counts as a word? You think it makes perfect sense to say that any string of words can also be counted as a word? Even if it cannot be identified as any type of word: as a noun, verb, adjective, etc.? Or given any definition? Do you believe that all linguists would say that? That there is not, or could not be, any controversy about such claims within the linguistic community?
  • Michael
    7.8k
    This is from Wikipedia: "A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word, by definition, is freestanding." — John

    Also from Wikipedia: "To illustrate the relationship between words and morphemes, the English term "rice" is a single word consisting of only one morpheme (rice). This word has a 1:1 morpheme per word ratio. In contrast, "handshakes", is a single word consisting of three morphemes (hand, shake, -s). This word has a 3:1 morpheme per word ratio."

    Furthermore, that a word is free-standing refutes your claim that "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" is a string of words without any spaces as "except for the morpheme tuntu "reindeer", none of the other morphemes can appear in isolation".

    So, you are merely arguing from conventional authority then? If the linguists say that it should count as a word, then it counts as a word?

    In lieu of any convincing counter-claims, yes. Just as I would argue from conventional scientific authority on scientific matters in lieu of any convincing counter-claims. So are you going to offer one?

    You think it makes perfect sense to say that any string of words can also be counted as a word?

    Not any string of words, but some. For example, the word "handshake" is a combination of the words (and morphemes) "hand" and "shake". And the word "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" is a combination of the morphemes "tuntu" (also a word), "ssur", "qatar", "ni", "ksaite", "ngqiggte", and "uq", What's so hard to understand about this?

    Even if it cannot be identified as any type of word: noun, verb, adjective, etc.? Or given any definition?

    I never said this. The word "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" can be given a definition, and probably can be identified as a noun or verb or adjective (or, perhaps, such distinctions aren't made or aren't as clear-cut in the Yupik language).
  • Janus
    7.5k
    Also from Wikipedia: "To illustrate the relationship between words and morphemes, the English term "rice" is a single word consisting of only one morpheme (rice). This word has a 1:1 morpheme per word ratio. In contrast, "handshakes", is a single word consisting of three morphemes (hand, shake, -s). This word has a 3:1 morpheme per word ratio."

    Furthermore, that a word is free-standing refutes your claim that "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" is a string of words without any spaces as "except for the morpheme tuntu "reindeer", none of the other morphemes can appear in isolation".
    Michael


    The English translations of these morphemes: "reindeer-hunt-future-say-negation-again-third.person.singular.indicative" can stand alone and thus be counted as words.

    In any case, you are not clarifying the issue by introducing other languages as examples, since the original argument is about what kinds of English words and sentences can be said to have linguistic meaning and whether the meaning of sentences can be determined purely linguistically, that is, in terms of linguistic definitions of their components (whether words or morphemes) or is also driven by extra-liinguistic contexts.

    In lieu of any convincing counter-claims, yes. Just as I would argue from conventional scientific authority on scientific matters in lieu of any convincing counter-claims. So are you going to offer one?Michael

    From the same article you cited:
    "There is no generally agreed upon definition of polysynthesis. Some authors apply it to languages with high morpheme-to-word ratios, whilst others use it for languages that are highly head-marking, or those that frequently use noun incorporation. At the same time, the question of whether to call a particular language polysynthetic is complicated by the fact that morpheme and word boundaries are not always clear cut, and languages may be highly synthetic in one area but less synthetic in other areas (e.g., verbs and nouns in Southern Athabaskan languages or Inuit languages)."

    Not any string of words, but some. For example, the word "handshake" is a combination of the words (and morphemes) "hand" and "shake". And the word "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" is a combination of the morphemes "tuntu" (also a word), "ssur", "qatar", "ni", "ksaite", "ngqiggte", and "uq", What's so hard to understand about this?Michael

    It is not hard to understand, but hard to agree with. I could just as well have asked if you believed any string of words and/or morphemes could count as a word, and if not then why not?
    The point for me is that many of what you are saying count only as morphemes and not as words in Yupik count as both in their English translations.

    I never said this. The word "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" can be given a definition, and probably can be identified as a noun or verb or adjective (or, perhaps, such distinctions aren't made or aren't as clear-cut in the Yupik language).Michael

    OK, I ask you again if you count 'Hehadnotyetsaidagainthathewasgoingtohuntreindeer' as a valid potential English word.

    What is the definition of this word/sentence (in its English translation)? And is it a noun, verb, preposition or what?

    The reason I ask for these qualifications relative to the English translation is that for your argument to hold the logic must be the same in each language.
  • Michael
    7.8k
    The English translations of these morphemes: "reindeer-hunt-future-say-negation-again-third.person.singular.indicative" can stand alone and thus be counted as words.John

    So? They can't in Yupik. In Yupik, "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" is the word and its morphemes (excepting "tuntu") are bound.

    From the same article you cited:
    "There is no generally agreed upon definition of polysynthesis. Some authors apply it to languages with high morpheme-to-word ratios, whilst others use it for languages that are highly head-marking, or those that frequently use noun incorporation. At the same time, the question of whether to call a particular language polysynthetic is complicated by the fact that morpheme and word boundaries are not always clear cut, and languages may be highly synthetic in one area but less synthetic in other areas (e.g., verbs and nouns in Southern Athabaskan languages or Inuit languages)."

    So? That doesn't change the fact that "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" is a word.

    It is not hard to understand, but hard to agree with. I could just as well have asked if you believed any string of words and/or morphemes could count as a word, and if not then why not?

    You might as well ask why "handshake" is a word but "footshake" isn't. It's just the way the language has developed.

    The point for me is that many of what you are saying count only as morphemes and not as words in Yupik count as both in their English translations.

    So? That doesn't change the fact that "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" is a word. You're privileging English as if it provides the "correct" distinction between morphemes and words and sentences.

    OK, I ask you again if you count 'Hehadnotyetsaidagainthathewasgoingtohuntreindeer' as a valid potential English word.

    Anything is a potential English word, so yes. Are you saying that there are limits to how a language can develop?

    What is the definition of this word/sentence (in its English translation)? And is it a noun, verb, preposition or what?

    How can I give an account of a would-be word? If and when it's ever a word it could mean anything and be a noun or a verb or a preposition or whatever. You might as well ask a man from hundreds of years ago to give an account of the word "computer".

    The reason I ask for these qualifications relative to the English translation is that for your argument to hold the logic must be the same in each language.

    The logic is the same. A word is a free-standing unit of language composed of one or more morphemes (which may be either free or bound). "Tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" is a free-standing unit of language composed of a free morpheme and 6 bound morphemes. It's a word.

    And you are still yet to explain why it isn't a word.
  • Janus
    7.5k
    How can I give an account of a would-be word? If and when it's ever a word it could mean anything and be a noun or a verb or a preposition or whatever. You might as well ask a man from hundreds of years ago to give an account of the word "computer".Michael

    The argument turns on the point about what constitutes a word. The usual definition is that a word must be one of a number of types, because a word must have a defined semantic or logical function.

    For me if "Tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" counts logically and semantically as a word then it follows that its English translation must also, since they share the same logical and semantic form. If you cannot tell me what kind of word 'Hehadnotyetsaidagainthathewasgoingtohuntreindeer' is then I will continue to find your arguments to be merely pedantic and utterly unconvincing, and we will find no common ground.

    In that case, rather than wasting more time talking past each other, it would be better to just agree to disagree and leave it.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    For me if "Tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" counts logically and semantically as a word then it follows that its English translation must alsoJohn

    No it doesn't.
  • Janus
    7.5k


    Why not, pray tell?
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    Because languages are different.
  • Janus
    7.5k
    They are not so different that translation is not possible.
  • Janus
    7.5k
    If translation is possible then the sense must be retained, which means that the logic of the semantic units is more or less equivalent. From this it follows that if "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" semantically counts as a word then its English equivalent must also.

    Obviously I am not claiming it would be a conventional word, but just that it could count as a neologism which satisfies the semantic requirements of wordhood. In other words, it would have to be a noun, verb, preposition, pronoun or whatever. To claim that it is a word and yet that it is not any type of what we would count as a word is spurious, unless you provide an argument for why such a conclusion should be accepted.

    If you are not interested in engaging this argument then stop the Monty Pythonesque retorts and simply don't respond at all. In any case I won't waste any more time responding to more 'Pythonisms' :-} .
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    If translation is possible then the sense must be retained, which means that the logic of the semantic units is more or less equivalent. From this it follows that if "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" semantically counts as a word then its English equivalent must also.John

    Doesn't follow.
  • Janus
    7.5k
    I think it's you that doesn't follow ;) .
  • Baden
    7.9k
    For me if "Tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" counts logically and semantically as a word then it follows that its English translation must also, since they share the same logical and semantic formJohn

    You can translate even within English among synonyms from those of one word to those of more than one and vice versa. I "give in", mentioned before, means I "surrender". You go from (verb + preposition) to (verb). There is no requirement either within or between languages that semantic units retain the form of a word and its associated word class(es). Words are strings of letters that happen to have come together over time and in translation they can be broken up and combined in sometimes unpredictable ways. They don't have a guaranteed structural integrity. A polysynthetic language like Yupik demonstrates that. So, from a linguistic point of view, "Tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" does count as a word and its translation in English does count as several words. That shouldn't be a matter of dispute.

    If translation is possible then the sense must be retained, which means that the logic of the semantic units is more or less equivalent. From this it follows that if "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" semantically counts as a word then its English equivalent must also.John

    This argument would lead by reductio ad absurdum to the conclusion that if the Irish "dúinn" is counted as a word then the English "for us" must also be counted as a word because they mean the same thing.
  • Janus
    7.5k
    That's a fair point, Baden, well taken, and I stand corrected. Now I am wondering what it could be that distinguishes a sentence from a word. It seems that it might be just linguistic convention after all.

    But the irony is that your correction of my argument would seem to even more strongly highlight and support my original point about the different ways in which words and sentences derive their meanings; which was that the meaning of words is determined by linguistic convention; i.e. the definitions that are based on long-term linguistic practice, whereas the meaning of sentences is much more open to novelty, to the influences that come from extra-linguistic contexts.

    It would seem that is why "Tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" counts as a word (even though it is not identifiable as any of our conventional word types): because it is always used in a linguistically defined context in that culture, whereas the English equivalent sentence is not.

    Consider, for example, how we would determine the meaning of the following sentence: 'I wouldn't mind if the lights were turned off for good'. There is no way to know what that sentence means absent an extra-linguistic context.
  • Baden
    7.9k
    the meaning of words is determined by linguistic convention; i.e. the definitions that are based on long-term linguistic practice, whereas the meaning of sentences is much more open to novelty, to the influences that come from extra-linguistic contexts.John

    I don't really object to that as you put it here, John.

    It would seem that is why "Tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq" counts as a word (even though it is not identifiable as any of our conventional word types): because it is always used in a linguistically defined context in that culture, whereas the English equivalent sentence is not.

    Consider, for example, how we would determine the meaning of the following sentence: 'I wouldn't mind if the lights were turned off for good'. There is no way to know what that sentence means absent an extra-linguistic context.
    John

    I think it's counted as a word just for grammatical reasons. I imagine the same type of contextual cues would be needed to fully interpret its meaning as are required in English. Ambiguous syntactical structures would seem to be a better candidate for differences in interpretative difficulty across languages. So, for example, in English a sentence like "I like her cooking" regardless of extralinguistic context has built in semantic ambiguity (which I'm sure a little imagination quickly reveals) attributable to its syntax alone. It's quite probable that this disappears in translation to many other languages.

    Anyway, if I haven't addressed your point here, feel free to reiterate.
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