Tuesday, October 4, 2011

From Molecule to Metaphor (2006), chapter 10

Here's a strange quote from Feldman's book:
Even as adults, the experience we associate with a word and thus its meaning differs depending on our age, gender, profession, and so on. People who only watch a sport event or artistic performance cannot fully understand participants' conversation about the activity. (p. 130)
It's difficult to disagree with the first sentence here, and we should probably applaud that a cognitive linguist acknowledges this fact.

But it's almost equally difficult to agree with the second sentence or see any logical relation between them. Where does this extreme solipsism come from?

Perhaps this kind of thinking is the very core of the problem in cognitive metaphor theory. If everything become a matter of private experience, then our evident ability to understand each other seems like a miracle. Feldman needs a shot of Wittgenstein.

Basic Level Nonsense
Speaking of Wittgenstein, I'm still shocked at the sheer amount of nonsense associated with the term "basic level category." Elanor Rosch (in all due respect) seems to have assumed without the slightest shed of argument that all concepts come in triples like vehicle > car > truck.

That's a bizarrely unfounded claim, conceptually and empirically. What would, for instance, be the "basic level" in the following strings of inclusions?
entity  >  ( . . . )  >  artifact  >  toy  >  doll  >  puppet  >  hand puppet
As far as I can see, the only way to pin these levels onto an absolute scale with a "ground floor" would be to randomly pick one by intuition. This would essentially fold the data into the definition and empty the theory completely of any meaning.

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