The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

Natural Semantics

The Polish linguist Anna Wierzbicka was the originator of “natural semantics”.

She regarded language as a tool to communicate meaning, and semantics as the study of meaning encoded in language. To her, syntax is a piece of semantics.

Corresponding to the three types of tools employed by language to convey meaning (words, grammatical constructions and “illocutionary” devices), linguistics can be divided into lexical semantics, grammatical semantics and illocutionary semantics. To her the division into syntax, semantics and pragmatics makes no sense because every element and aspect of language carries meaning.  Meaning is an individual's interpretation of the world. It is subjective and depends on the social and cultural context. Therefore, semantics encompasses lexicon, grammar and illocutionary structure.

Wierzbicka’s project was to build semantics from elementary concepts. There exist a broad variety of semantic differences among languages (even emotions seem to be cultural artifacts), but she identified a few semantic primitives shared by all languages. Such universal semantic primitives make up a semantic meta-language that could be used to explicate all other concepts in all languages.

 


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