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Abstraction and Natural Language Semantics

Daniel Kayser
Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences
Vol. 358, No. 1435, The Abstraction Paths: From Experience to Concept (Jul. 29, 2003), pp. 1261-1268
Published by: Royal Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3558218
Page Count: 8
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Abstraction and Natural Language Semantics
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Abstract

According to the traditional view, a word prototypically denotes a class of objects sharing similar features, i.e. it results from an abstraction based on the detection of common properties in perceived entities. I explore here another idea: words result from abstraction of common premises in the rules governing our actions. I first argue that taking 'inference', instead of 'reference', as the basic issue in semantics does matter. I then discuss two phenomena that are, in my opinion, particularly difficult to analyse within the scope of traditional semantic theories: systematic polysemy and plurals. I conclude by a discussion of my approach, and by a summary of its main features.

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