Monday, March 06, 2006

What are meanings?

What are word meanings? One characterization is that they are functions of various kinds. This may work as a way of formalizing a theory of meaning, but I'm not sure how to reconcile it with the following phenomenological observation. When I understand what a word/sentence/etc. means, it doesn't seem like I'm grasping a function or a composition of several functions. There is certainly something going on when I understand, say, a proof in recursion theory that uses functions, but that seems somewhat differnet than when I understand what a new word means.

On a similar topic, are there any theories about similarity of word meaning? I don't mean identity of word meaning, synonymy. The meaning of 'black' is similar to the meaning of 'white', but is it more similar to the meaning of 'white' than to the meaning of 'blue' or 'gray'? VSM, LSA and their derivatives have measures of word meaning similiarity, but there is not a way (yet?) to connect their meaning vectors to a truth-conditional semantic theory. This is certainly a project to pursue.

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