Semantic Holism and Language Learning

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Holistic theories of meaning have, at least since Dummett’s Frege: The Philosophy of language, been assumed to be problematic from the perspective of the incremental nature of natural language learning. In this essay I argue that the general relationship between holism and language learning is in fact the opposite of that claimed by Dummett. It is only given a particular form of language learning, and a particular form of holism, that there is a problem at all; in general, for all forms of holism, and irrespective of how language learning is understood, semantic holism is conducive to language learning. The paper has three main parts. In the first, I demonstrate with the use of a simple formal system, that the form of holism that generates the problem that Dummett draws attention to is really decomposable into three distinct components, each of which is necessary for the problem to arise. In the second part, I demonstrate that even Dummett’s strong form of holism is compatible with one natural way in which to understand the incremental nature of language learning. In the third part, I outline the reasons why all forms of holism are conducive to language learning and offer two ways in which this general fact can be spelled out precisely. I end the paper by addressing some possible objections, and in doing so I draw attention to some affinities between semantic holism and the principle of compositionality, a semantic principle which has long been assumed to be conducive to language learning.
Sidor (från-till)725-759
TidskriftJournal of Philosophical Logic
StatusPublished - 2014
Externt publiceradJa

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

  • Filosofi


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