Plastic Glasses and Church Fathers: Semantic Extension from the Ethnoscience Tradition

Plastic Glasses and Church Fathers: Semantic Extension from the Ethnoscience Tradition

Plastic Glasses and Church Fathers: Semantic Extension from the Ethnoscience Tradition

Plastic Glasses and Church Fathers: Semantic Extension from the Ethnoscience Tradition

Synopsis

Kronenfeld aims to present a comprehensive understanding of the process by which we use words in speech to refer to things in the world, and to develop a theory of the semantics of natural language which can account adequately for native speakers' intuitions regarding word meanings and their word usage.

Excerpt

We have already spoken of the importance for formal analytic practice of conjunctively defined definitions, whether definitions of analytic categories or features or of folk categories. In this chapter, I want first to summarize the formal reasons for this importance that have already been raised, and then to discuss work in psychology by Bruner, Goodnow, and Austin (1956) that illustrates the psychological importance of conjunctively defined categories for human thought and that somewhat narrows the psychologically relevant definition of conjunctivity from the more general mathematical definition. Next I will describe some classroom experiments of mine that closely relate Bruner, Goodnow, and Austin's psychological work to Nerlove and Romney's study (1967) of the role of conjunctivity in semantic categories. Our exploration of conjunctivity will conclude with a reconsideration of the problem that Nerlove and Romney' findings pose for Romney and D'Andrade's conclusions.

Lounsbury, Mathematics, and Elegance

Lounsbury's reasons for making conjunctivity a prime criterion for distinguishing acceptable from unacceptable features (see Lounsbury 1964a: 194) corresponded to the basic reasons of mathematical formalism: without some criterion for the efficiency or effectiveness of an operation, two alternative versions of the operation could not be compared. The criterion was the general one of science known as Occam's Razor: all other things being equal, simpler (or more "elegant") explanations (definitions, mechanisms, or whatever) are preferable to more complex ones; and without explicitness, simplicity cannot be evaluated. The only way one could recognize an operation or category as a single unit was by the single definition by which one recognized these instances. Two definitions meant two units. If one tried to claim a disjunctively defined category or operation as a single unit, then one was left with the question, By what formal criterion could a single unit be distinguished from a set of units? The analyst's intuition did not count. The core of Lounsbury's Iroquois analysis was his search for a single definition by which all the relationships his anthropologically trained intuition told him should be alternative versions of a single cross/parallel distinction could indeed be shown to be such. There was no explicit psychological claim in Lounsbury's formal treatment, though there was, perhaps, the implicit presumption that the same criteria that make conjunctively defined units easier to deal with for mathematicians and formalists might as well make them more reasonable for native speakers.

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