Topic: natural language as a system

topics > communication > Group: natural language


commitment as a system
language and life as a game
meaning by language as a whole
natural language as action or problem solving
organizations as systems
reality is a machine
philosophy of mind
programming with natural language
pronoun reference
sentences, propositions, and truth
what is a number


A natural desire is to see language as a system. It certainly has a lot of regularities. If it were a system, then meaning would have a foundation. Lots of philosophers and linguists have tried to define such a system.

My view is just the opposite. That system is an emergent property of language. That language is closer to life than number. (cbb 5/94)

Subtopic: theory of meaning from parts -- primitives up

Quote: a theory of meaning must tell how the meanings of sentences depend on the meaning of words; i.e., finite vocabulary and rules; learnable [»daviD_1967]
Quote: a theory of meaning should define meaning by a finite number of applications of a finite number of rules on a finite vocabulary [»daviD_1968]
Quote: the intension of a complex concept may be defined by more primitive concepts
Quote: a child learns a natural language by discovering a deep and abstract theory [»chomN_1965]
Quote: limit kernel to a small set of simple, declarative sentences; defines content since transformations preserve meaning [»chomN9_1956]

Subtopic: complexity from structure up

Quote: mimetic sign language is like spoken language: complex forms from a small number of discrete components in a shell-like structure [»newpEL_1982]
Quote: Smalltalk: everything we can describe can be represented by the recursive composition of behavioral building blocks [»kayA3_1993]
Quote: text is an Ordered Hierarchy of Content Objects; any other model is inadequate [»deroSJ2_1990]
Quote: can use any formal devise to signal grammatical distinctions -- word order, word endings, prefixes, suffixes, numbers, brackets, fonts, colors [»fishS5_2005]
Quote: large complex structures are built up step-by-step from simpler structures using discoverable natural laws; includes linguistic structures [»rossDT_1963]
Quote: if the natural laws of complex structures can be formulated mechanically, then the grand complexity will arise naturally and of itself

Subtopic: universal writing up

Quote: create a universal writing of first terms; e.g., a relation is a line; like Chinese but simpler [»leibGW_1666]
Quote: analyze categories as mutipart numbers; e.g. 'Interval' is 2.3.10 where 2 is space, 3 is between, and 10 is whole [»leibGW_1666]
Quote: assign a symbolic number to every term; composite terms are a product; e.g., man is rational animal (6=2*3) [»leibGW4_1679]
Quote: a calculus with every distinct concept defined in terms of its requisites [»leibGW4_1679]
Quote: easily identify hierarchical relations with symbolic numbers; e.g., if man is 6 and ape is 10 then neither concept contains the other [»leibGW4_1679]
Quote: universal characteristic--an alphabet of human thought about everything that can be discovered or judged; analyze its words; communicate worldwide [»leibGW_1679a]
Quote: a few select men could develop a universal characteristic in five years; similar effort as for an encyclopedia [»leibGW_1679a]
Quote: a universal characteristic strengthens the mind; as certain as arithmetic; avoids objections and emotional decisions [»leibGW_1679a]

Subtopic: phonemes are a system up

Quote: every human language standardizes on a few dozen phonemes even though humans can produce an infinity of sounds [»sowaJF_1984]
Quote: phonemes form a highly structured system; if one is lost in a dialect, all the others are shifted [»sowaJF_1984]

Subtopic: metalanguage up

Quote: use vs. mention is like object language vs. metalanguage; first suggested by Russell [»raatP_1998]
Quote: must reform a colloquial language to formalize its semantics with a metalanguage; the process may loss the language's naturalness [»tarsA_1956]
Quote: use vs. mention of language is the distinction between object language and metalanguage; used for linguistics and philosophy of language [»martAP_1990]

Subtopic: formalized language up

Quote: seek a normative, abstract theory of language; like applied geometry is the abstract theory for surveying [»churA_1951]
Quote: there is no difference in principle between a formalized language and a natural language; differing degrees of completeness [»churA_1951]
Quote: assume unambiguous concepts, unambiguous constants, the free variables of a form determine its sense-value [»churA_1951]
Quote: sentences are a special case of complex singular terms and predicates are a special case of functional expressions
Quote: the truths of arithmetic govern all that is numerable; this includes everything thinkable; closely tied the laws of thought [»fregG_1884]
Quote: thought is in its essentials the same everywhere; but may be more pure, using words and numerals as aids, aspires to surpass all sciences [»fregG_1884]

Subtopic: examples of formalization up

Quote: Frege developed concept writing to prevent gaps in a chain of inferences; found that language and intuition were inadequate
Quote: a denoting phrase acts as the qualifier of a variable in an expression; e.g., C(everything) means 'C(x) is always true' [»russB_1956]
Quote: in Russell's theory of denotation, 'I met a man' means '"I met x, and x is human" is not always false' [»russB_1956]

Subtopic: purity of language up

Quote: maintain purity of language by tracing every word to its original [»johnS_1747, OK]
Quote: Johnson found disorder, confusion, adulterations in English without established principles or authorities [»johnS_1755, OK]

Subtopic: language is not formalized up

Quote: English is not a finite-state language because 'If S then S' has an unbounded dependency set [»chomN9_1956]

Subtopic: language is not a system up

Quote: just because we use English to name a computerized representation does not mean that the name works for the computer in the same way as it does for us [»smitBC1_1991]
Quote: system is an emergent property of language; opposite to normal view [»cbb_1990, OK]
Quote: Wittgenstein realized language formed pictures of reality through a schematic drawing of an accident; a fact or word corresponds to reality [»pitkHF_1972]
Quote: cognitive science and universal grammars treat the existence of patterns as evidence for mental representations and unconscious rules; unfounded [»searJR_1992]
Quote: while some words correspond to reality, other don't; a theory of language must account for both [»pitkHF_1972]
Quote: how does a child figure out what an adult is pointing at? an ostensive definition can always be variously interpreted [»pitkHF_1972]
Quote: skepticism about meaning from desire for system in our language, our ability to generalize and find patterns; yet definitions are incomplete

Related Topics up

Group: formalism   (9 topics, 478 quotes)
Group: grammar   (8 topics, 181 quotes)
Group: philosophy   (60 topics, 2323 quotes)
Group: systems   (17 topics, 530 quotes)

Topic: commitment (31 items)
Topic: commitment as a system (22 items)
Topic: language and life as a game (30 items)
Topic: meaning by language as a whole (26 items)
Topic: natural language as action or problem solving (29 items)
Topic: organizations as systems (29 items)
Topic: reality is a machine (48 items)
Topic: philosophy of mind (78 items)
Topic: programming with natural language (27 items)
Topic: pronoun reference (23 items)
Topic: rules (43 items)
Topic: sentences, propositions, and truth (23 items)
Topic: what is a number
(55 items)

Updated barberCB 3/06
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