The Methodological Argument Against Minimal Word Meanings

Emma Borg

in Pursuing Meaning

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199588374
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741487 | DOI:
The Methodological Argument Against Minimal Word Meanings

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This chapter explores the methodological argument against minimal word meanings: namely the claim that any such word meanings are inadequate to carry what is called the ‘internalist’ or ‘intra-linguistic’ burden on semantics. So, for instance, it might be expected that a semantic theory should explain why certain readings are possible or impossible for sentences, that is should explain the systematic patterns of syntactic transformation which expressions allow, or that it should explain relations such as synonymy, polysemy and analyticity. Yet plausibly explaining all these kinds of things requires a complex account of the meanings of lexical items which goes far beyond a mere list pairing words and denotations. If this is right, then it seems minimal word meanings will be insufficient to underpin the work required of a semantic theory. This chapter explores the intra-linguistic burden and suggests that, perhaps contrary to initial appearances, a properly nuanced referential account of word meaning might be able to bear such a burden. Furthermore, and again perhaps contrary to initial appearances, it is argued that such a nuanced account of word meaning is entirely consistent with the tenets of minimal semantics.

Keywords: word meaning; lexical semantics; inferential role semantics; Pietroski; Chomsky; Bach; radical minimalism; organisational lexical semantics

Chapter.  21974 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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