The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Case-based Grammars

Either because they did not agree with his vision of the human mind, or because they considered unnatural the limits of his grammars, or because they devised mathematically more efficient models, other thinkers rejected or modified Chomsky's theory.

One powerful idea that influenced many thinkers is that the deep structure of language is closer to the essence of concepts than to the syntax of a specific language. For example, “case-frame grammar” (developed in the late 1960s by the US linguist Charles Fillmore) assumes that each sentence represents explicitly the relationships between concepts and action. Fillmore shifted the emphasis towards “cases”. Traditional cases (such as the ones used by German or Latin) are purely artificial, because the same sentence can be rephrased altering the cases of its constituents: “Piero” in “Piero wrote this book” and “this book was written by Piero” appears in two different cases. But its role is always the same, regardless of how we write the sentence. That role is the real “case”, in Fillmore’s lingo. These cases are universal. They are not language-specific. My relationship towards the book i wrote is the same in every language of the world, regardless of how a specific syntax allows me to express such relationship. Fillmore concluded that a universal underlying set of case-like relations plays a fundamental role in determining syntactic and semantic relations in all languages.

In Fillmore’s grammar, therefore, a sentence is represented by identifying such cases. Sentences that deliver the same meaning with different words, but that describe essentially the same scene,  get  represented in the same way, because they exhibit the same items in the same cases.

Fillmore's approach started a whole new school of thought. 

Drawing from the Aristotelian classification of state, activity and eventuality, the US linguist David Dowty proposed that the modal operators "do", "become" and "cause" be used as the foundations for building the meaning of every other verb.  Within a sentence, the various words have "roles" relative to the verb.  A thematic role is a set of properties that are common to all roles that belong to that thematic role. A thematic role can then be seen as the relationship that ties a term with an event or a state. And this allows one to build a mathematical calculus (a variant of the lambda calculus) on thematic roles. 

Likewise, Ray Jackendoff proposed that the meanings of all verbs be reduced to a few space-time primitives, such as “motion” and “location”. 

 


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