Emic unit?

Here, one may view the word 'meaning' to sort of mean a "language sufficient to express all ideas." In this sense, a "meaning" may be defined in terms of such an abstract language. Thus, a "function into the set of meanings" really means a function into the set of valid expressions in this hypothetical language.

I refer to a partial function because there may be certain sequences of ____ which are invalid. The domain of definition of this partial function may thus be considered to be the set of expressions which are "grammatically correct."

This question.... has to have an answer. The one characteristic common to all languages is that there exists a notion of sequence. Information has to be presented in a totally ordered fashion. Perhaps one day this will not be the case, but for now, we may assume this to be true. Thus, I don't believe this question has made any arbitrary choices. Being so fundamental, it must have an answer.

So... what word goes in the blank?

  • The question has been put on hold (not by me). @extremeaxe5, I think it a good question; could you perhaps rephrase to satisfy the others? For example, "what fundamental units of language are most readily mapped to a model of meaning?" And point out that you regard intonation as a candidate linguistic unit. Jul 25 '18 at 5:49
  • @NickNicholas hmm... ok. I’ll see if I can do that. Thanks for agreeing with me! Haha... Jul 26 '18 at 2:05

The notion of double articulation is the fact that the answer to your question is both phonemes and morphemes, with morphemes being inherently meaningful units (so that the mapping to meaning is at least partly compositional), and phonemes being not inherently meaningful. The mapping of phonemes to meaning, of course, goes via morphemes, so it's not as interesting.

As the Wikipedia article points out, sign languages can be argued to do less double articulation than oral languages, since there are more sign language phonemes and they map more closely to sign language morphemes.

Sequencing is indeed an important design criterion of language, although you might argue that the sequencing of phonemes into morphemes is more critical than the sequencing of morphemes into sentences (dependency vs constituency grammar).

  • Ok, but ‘really?’ Is the exact same sequence of morphemes as ‘really.’ Yet they map to a completely different meaning. ‘Morpheme’ is not the word I am looking for. Jul 23 '18 at 5:44
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    Based on that, you might think that intonation-emes + morphemes get you to all the meaning you want. I'd say that's naive. You are launching yourself down a rabbit hole of perdition if you even hint at pragmatics (and the difference between the two phrases is pragmatics). Truth-conditional semantics gets you from morphemes to "really". If you want the pragmatics component of meaning as well, you're adding in the world as context. Quit while you're ahead. :) Jul 23 '18 at 6:12
  • I am not implying anything of the sort. I am looking for a single word to fit in the blank. I’m just saying that ‘morpheme’ is definitely not it. Jul 23 '18 at 12:07
  • As an after thought, I will add that I do not consider ‘this is a pen’ to have different meanings in different contexts. ‘This,’ at least to me, is a always a reference to a particular object, and that changes with context, but ‘this’ has a particular meaning in its own right: it’s a pointer to the object in question. Thus, I’m not sure context is as much a factor as you believe. Let me know if you disagree. Jul 23 '18 at 12:12
  • I agree with that (or at least, that that kind of reductionist semantics has its place); I just think that adding intonation as a meaning constituent is more trouble than it's worth, because the meaning of intonation is too enmeshed in pragmatics. Jul 23 '18 at 15:32

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