Monday, October 09, 2006

Expressions without semantic content

A DefinedMeaning is the union between a specific set of signs (a Spelling) in a given Language - an Expression and a paraphrase of the semantic content of this Expression - a Definition. This is a fundamental pillar of WiktionaryZ, and without it WiktionaryZ might well prove to be a house of cards. For the vast majority of Expressions in most languages this pillar is a sound base.

In all languages however there exist a few Expressions (in some languages quite many) that are intrinsically empty of semantic content; their sole function is to serve as glue between the more common semantically heavy Expressions, and relate this either to one another or to the context in some way or another.

There are many examples. To name a few: the adverb of negation in most languages (not), the evidential particles of for example Akha, that serve to ground any declarative sentence in a conceptual framework where the speaker indicates how (s)he has obtained the information given (with the same ease as a speaker of English indicate the temporal framework within which f.ex a declarative sentence is staged), aspectual particles systems of many East Asian languages etc etc.

While there will in due time be space to define the Usage of a given Expression, the question of how to treat the Expressions that have no useful Definition with which to unite into a DefinedMeaning has imo not yet been thoroughly solved.

Some possible ways of dealing with this might be:
  • Allowing the Definition of a limited set of DefinedMeanings to not express semantic content, but grammatical (in the widest sense of the word) content.
  • Allowing the Definition of a limited set of DefinedMeanings to be empty, deferring to a Usage note.
  • Referring these Expressions to a grammar.
I am not too happy with any of these solutions, most especially not with the last one.


Blogger Barend Mons said...

Hi, my feeling (more intuitive than thought-through) is that such expressions should be defined more or less as you do in the examples. They have a function much like 'junk' DNA in the genome which is imperative. Thier grammatical role may be part of the definition, next to how they are generally used. Further comments shoudl comed from linguists, not from biologists...grinnn.

10:35 am  

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