invariant meaning?

From: Mari Broman Olsen (
Date: Thu Aug 07 1997 - 16:38:52 EDT

Clayton writes:

By defining semantics this way, have we not shortcircuited the
question? I could be wrong but I suspect that there are a number of
folks other than myself (see postscript) who question the very
existence of an *invariant* component of meaning in a word or
grammatical form.

I think one could profitably distinguish between the paramaters of
invariance and specificity/abstractness (Rolf's suggestion). That is,
if the invariant meaning is too specific to be usefully applied to the
next situation, it is not a proper semantics. But, I think it is
important to see how the range of meaning the imperfective has (which
I define as focus on teh 'nucleus' of a situation) widens or narrows
depending on what other forms are available in a language. In some
languages there are imperfective, perfective and unmarked aspectual forms in a
single tense. In others there are only imperfective and unmarked.
The instantiation of what it means to have "nucleus focus" will
therefore have language specific ramifications. THis is not to say
that the meaning is variant. I think we have to assume either some
invariance, or a prototypicality (like Wittgenstein's 'game'), else
the possibility of communication using these forms is unnecessarily
complicated. But I haven't consulted the pages you cited again
(though I'd read them earlier).


Mari Broman Olsen
Research Associate

University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies
3141 A.V. Williams Building
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742

(301) 405-6754 FAX: (301) 314-9658


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