Gerald Koenig wrote:

> >Boudewijn Rempt wrote:
> >But then what is the underlying, ultimate generic "language"?
> I'm reading my new copy of Wierzbicka's semantics book and she supposes
> a small closed set of less than 100 concepts that are universally found
> in spoken language. I suppose the same set will be found in the
> semantic assembly language of the function set that your computer
> inputs funnel to.  She is also working on a minimalist universal
> grammar, all empirically based. I'm putting the Wierzbickas into
> Nilenga-NGL and translating the tenses into vector tense.


Is that _Semantics: Primes and Universals_?

I couldn't finish that.  Too frustrating.  Which was a pity, because
it was so fascinating.

First, she seems to spend every other paragraph attacking George
Lakoff for the views he held in the seventies, while ignoring the
qualifications, changes, and modifications to those views he's made
over the past twenty-some years (indeed, in books she quotes from,
like _Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things_, but as far as I can tell,
has not read except to skim for quotes).

She has similar contempt for others who carefully study semantics
with methods other than her own, such as Ronald Langacker.
Langacker's work on semantic issues in grammar is monumental, but the
only time she quotes him is to pooh-pooh him for admitting that his
theories might not always achieve a level of predictiveness which
would satisfy a physicist.  Again, this is a quote from a book which,
if Wierzbicka had actually read it (I see no evidence she has more
than skimmed it), would have given her a lot to think about.

If she had only presented her theory, and not spent so much of her
time pouring ill-deserved and ill-conceived abuse on other theories, I
would have enjoyed her work immensely.  I think it's brilliant.

I'm not convinced of the reality of the "Semantic Primitives," but I
am convinced that they are an extremely powerful tool for translation,
especially in the hand of someone with such powerful analytic
abilities as she has.

When I say I'm not convinced of the reality of the primitives, I mean

I don't think that they are by any means the "lowest level" of
interpretation one can reach.  They may be the lowest level one can
reach *linguistically*, and therefore be bare minima for *purposes of
translation* (which is conducted purely in language), but language and
meaning must relate to the rest of human life by some mechanism.  That
means that there must be some mechanism for "interpreting"
Wierzbickian primitives in terms of body, memory, experience of time,
space, and all the rest of human experience.  These are the mechanisms
that people like Langacker and Lakoff want to investigate.

If Wierzbicka is right, there are 55 words which actually relate to
the rest of human experience through some mechanism which she is not
at all interested in (she says the words are "indefinable" for this
reason).  All the rest of the words in a language are interpretable in
terms of those 55 words.

I say, if those 55 words can have a link to human experience which is
direct, why in the *world* shouldn't the rest of the words in a
language?  But Wierzbicka thinks that the rest of the words in a
language have no meaning other than configurations of the 55
primitives in various combinations.

It's ridiculous as a theory of how semantics really *works*.  But
she's proved it to be an amazingly useful tool for analyzing words and
writing definitions of them.  It's a pity that her insistence that
language consists of nothing but nails is so frustrating to read,
because she really has invented a wonderful hammer.

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