Meaning of Case, Word fallacies

From: lakr (
Date: Mon May 12 1997 - 16:19:10 EDT

> In this way inflected forms behave much like lexical forms. A lexical
> form has no meaning without a context. The lexical form is a key into a
> domain (paradigm) of possible meanings. Until the lexical form appears
> in a context, it is an uninstantiated variable, and it receives it's
> instantiation from contextual information. Outside of the the context
> the lexical form is only a key and is semantically empty.
> These notions are commonplace in discussions of lexical semantics but I
> rarely see them spelled out in grammars? Why not?
> Clay Bartholomew
> Three Tree Point

I have been trying to grasp the linguistic theories presented on this list
and must admit to a less than adequate understanding. However I think that
to say that a word has 'no meaning without a context' is an overstatement
and as much of a fallacy as saying that there is one lexical meaning for
a word that exists in all of it's contexts.

The example of the word 'roller coaster' is given in Carson's Exegetical Fallacies as a word that can mean more than one thing. The example is given of a
person describing their love life as a 'roller coaster', having ups and downs.

However, if you were to ask a person on the street to define what is meant
by a roller coaster, that definition would not necessarily be presented because
the fact that one's personal life can be described in those terms does not
mean that a new meaning has been added to the word 'roller coaster'.

That same person on the street might likely say that a roller coaster is
a large attraction at an amusement park with cars that ride on a track
which carries people on a fun filled ride. Even without a context the
mind can form an image of what it considers as a roller coaster.

Even if a person were to use the word 'roller coaster' in a context which
emphasizes it's 'up and down' properties, that does not change the fact
that the word has reference to the same large object which has cars and
carries people up and down on a track - It is just that the person did
not choose to emphasize the other characteristics that go along with the
concept of a roller coaster, perhaps it's size.

A young child who by nature of his short stature is not alowed to ride on
the roller coaster might indeed describe it in a way that emphasizes it's
size and not even be aware of the experience one has while riding one,
never having experienced it. That however does not change the fact that
it is still a 'roller coaster'.

Am I getting the hang of this yet ?
Larry Kruper

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