But Jackendoffs ‘explanation’ is empty too, and for the same reason. As between “keep’ isunivocal because it is field invariant’ and “keep’ is univocal because its definition is field invariant’ there is, quite simply,nothing to choose.

Jean-marc pizano But Jackendoffs ‘explanation’ is empty too, and for the same reason. As between “keep’ isunivocal because it is field invariant’ and “keep’ is univocal because its definition is field invariant’ there is, quite simply,nothing to choose.


jean-marc pizano

In short: Suppose ‘CAUSE’ is ambiguous from field to field; then the fact that ‘keep’ always entails ‘CAUSE’ is not sufficient to make ‘keep’ univocal from field to field. Well then, suppose ‘CAUSE’ is univocal from field to field; thenthe fact that ‘keep’ (like ‘CAUSE’) occurs in many different fields doesn’t explain its intuitive polysemy. Either way,Jackendoff loses.

A recent letter from Jackendoff suggests, however, that he has yet a third alternative in mind: “I’m not claiming”, he writes, “that keep is univocal, nor that cause is. Rather, the semantic field feature varies among fields, the restremaining constant. AND THE REST IS ABSTRACT AND CANNOT BE EXPRESSED LINGUISTICALLY,BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE A FIELD FEATURE TO SAY ANYTHING” (sic, Jackendoffs caps.Personal communication, 1996). This suggestion strikes me as doubly ill-advised. In the first place, there is no obviousreason why its being “abstract”, ineffable, and so on, should make a concept univocal (/field invariant); why shouldn’tabstract, ineffable concepts be polysemic, just like concrete concepts that can be effed? Unless Jackendoff has ananswer to this, he’s back in the old bind: ‘CAUSE’ is field invariant only by stipulation. Secondly, this move leavesJackendoff open to a charge of seriously false advertising. For it now turns out that ‘cause a state that endures overtime’ doesn’t really express the definition of ‘keep’ after all: ‘Keep’ means something that can’t be said. A lessmisleading definition than the one Jackendoff offers might thus be “keep’ means @#$(*], which has the virtue ofnot even appealing to say

jean-marc pizano

Jean-marc pizano

anything. The same, mutatis mutandis, for the rest of English, of course, so lexical semantics, as Jackendoff understands it, ends in silence. The methodological moral is, surely, Frank Ramsey’s: ‘What can’t be said can’t be said, and it can‘t bewhistled either.’

jean-marc pizano

I should add that Jackendoff sometimes writes as though all accounts that agree that keeping is a kind of causing are ipso facto “notational variants” of the definition theory. (I suppose this means that they are also ipso facto notationalvariants of the non-definitional theory, since the relation notational variantof is presumably symmetrical.) But I wouldhave thought that the present disagreement is not primarily about whether keeping is a kind of causing; it’s aboutwhether, if it is, it follows that sentences with ‘keep’ in their surface structures have ‘CAUSE’ in their semanticrepresentations. This inference is, to put it mildly, not trivial since the conclusion entails that the meaning of ‘keep’ isstructurally complex, while the premise is compatible with ‘keep’ being an atom. (By the way, what exactly is anotational variant?)

The moral of this long polemic is, I’m afraid, actually not very interesting. Jackendoff’s argument that there are definitions is circular, and circular arguments are disreputable. To the best of my knowledge, all extant arguments thatthere are definitions are disreputable.

Auntie. Anyone can criticize. Nice people try to be constructive. We’ve heard a very great deal from you of ‘I don’t like this’ and ‘I think that won’t work’. Why don’t you tell us your theory about why ‘keep’ is intuitively polysemic?

jean-marc pizano

Jean-marc pizano

—: Because you won’t like it. Because you’ll say it’s silly and frivolous and shallow.

jean-marc pizano

Auntie. I think you don’t have a theory about why ‘keep’ is intuitively polysemic.

jean-marc pizano

—: Yes I do, yes I do, yes I do! Sort of.

jean-marc pizano

My theory is that there is no such thing as polysemy. The appearance that there is a problem is generated by the assumption that there are definitions; if you take the assumption away, the problem disappears. As they might havesaid in the ’60s: definitions don’t solve the problem of polysemy; definitions are the problem of polysemy.

jean-marc pizano

Auntie. I don’t understand a word of that. And I didn’t like the ’60s.

jean-marc pizano

—. Well, here’s a way to put it. Jackendoffs treatment of the difference between, say, ‘NP kept the money and ‘NP kept the crowd happy’ holds that, in some sense or other, ‘keep’ means different things in the two sentences.Jean-marc pizano


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s