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Most "nonsensical" or "meaningless" sentences can be interpreted to mean something that isn't total nonsense:

  • Colorless green ideas sleep furiously: "Nondescript immature ideas have violent nightmares"; "Naive ideas which have not yet attained their full scope can cause a mind to race even while it attempts to rest"; "Nondescript ideas for helping the environment are not being practically applied but are being rapidly developed"

Are there any grammatically correct sentences that have no possible interpretation?

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    Maybe by mixing terms from different scientific fields? "The wavelength of the virus accelerates genetically, although its checksum is planetary" seems to be truly meaningless.
    – Someone
    Commented Jun 29, 2022 at 5:11
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    Is an idea having a violent nightmare really meaningful? Your other two examples aren't meant as nonsensical sentences, but to show how many times an English word can be repeated and still produce a grammatically-correct result.
    – Draconis
    Commented Jun 29, 2022 at 5:13
  • Of course, if you allow fake words, it's trivial. "Falsof dromels gree karethly" is grammatically valid if you say "falsof" is an adjective, "dromel" is a noun, "gree" is a verb, and "karethly" is an adverb.
    – Someone
    Commented Jun 29, 2022 at 5:14
  • Maybe a violent nightmare is a nightmare containing violence?
    – Someone
    Commented Jun 29, 2022 at 5:14
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    A violent nightmare is fine, I question an idea having one. Ideas, lacking physical substance, cannot sleep or dream. I'd also remove the other two examples, since they're not intended to be meaningless.
    – Draconis
    Commented Jun 29, 2022 at 5:15

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Strings of sound can be given an interpretation in at least two ways. The usual method, whereby we typically define "possible interpretation", is "strictly using the rules of the grammar in this language". Another method – the one typically used by the overwhelming majority of humans – is "using any and all evidence and methods available". The latter method is extremely useful when called on by individuals attempting to communicate, who do not have a common language: it allows one to be understood, even when you massively violate the rules of grammar.

There are many pre-compiled strings that are used in language differently from what you would expect given literal semantics, for example "pot calling the kettle black" is literally an absurdity. Moreover, the actual interpretation of the utterance cannot be related by rule to word meaning and principles of compositional semantics.

The answer to your question depends on having an explicit theory of lexical meaning, syntax, and semantic composition. It presupposes that syntactic distribution is blind to semantic properties – a possible but not logically-necessary position. All attempts that I am aware of to compose the meaning of strings from the meaning of the components (including abstract "thematic role" marking) are very general – they say that you can can combine "P", "x" and "y" to derive the proposition "P(x,y)" as well as "P(y,x)". In such compositional theories, all well-formed sentences have a semantic interpretation. But: not all such propositions describe actually-possible states of affairs. Avicenna's defense of the law of non-contradiction ("Those who deny the first principle should be flogged or burned until they admit that it is not the same thing to be burned and not burned, or whipped and not whipped") reminds us that we can conceptualize things that do not exist, and that contradict the nature of the universe.

In other words, it depends on what you mean by "mean". If you think meaning is about actual states of affairs in the real world, then it's easy to construct grammatically well-formed strings that have no meaning because they don't describe facts. I just think that is the wrong theory of meaning.

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    Given the absolute kicking this question has undeservedly received, I think your answer could be more helpfully be framed as supportive from the outset. It was only when I got to the last paragraph that I realised its thrust (I thought it was heading in the other direction). Based solely on projecting my own laziness onto other users here, many might not get to your last paragraph, skim your answer and completely misunderstand your meaning. Commented Jun 29, 2022 at 23:14
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    Maybe a meaningless sentence is one in which there are no grammatical relationships between words that have any significance in that context? In that case, my example of "The wavelength of the virus accelerates genetically, although its checksum is planetary" is completely meaningless, because viruses don't have wavelengths, a wavelength can't accelerate, genetics and acceleration are unrelated, wavelengths don't have checksums (a particular representation of a wavelength might, but the length itself doesn't), and checksums have nothing to do with planets.
    – Someone
    Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 1:38
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The entire poem Jaberwocky (sp) is completely nonsensical, but completely grammatically correct.

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  • Yes, but it uses a lot of non-words.
    – Someone
    Commented Jul 1, 2022 at 20:44
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Russels paradox or the liar's paradox are statements known to have no logical truth value. A naive example:

This sentence is false.

Depending on how you define meaning and truth, this sentence can be argued to be meaningless. It is nevertheless a meaningful example. If your flavor of logic is chosen appropriately, we can show that the statement is simply wrong without at the same time implying that its opposite were true.

Also, this depends on your definition of grammaticality. The Chomskian colorful green idea does challenge this concept and still depends on a empirical validition. I.e. a construct is ungrammatical if speakers of nominal Language reject it. Showing that it is accepted by a significant share of the population - again to be defined arbitrarily - would be a different problem.

Russels Paradox is older than that, applied to naive set theory. Meanwhile, homotopy type theory and other modern extensions of the classical concept may allow it in higher orders of logic, which can be projected via schema of induction in first order logic.

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    This sentence is true is equally meaningless, but logically spotless. Which is an example of why logic is a weak reed to lean on.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jun 29, 2022 at 15:24
  • It isn't spotless, because it defines itself as a sentence and, in this context, also defines "sentence" at the same time. It's Russel's paradox in effect. For sake of the argument I might not be able to accomodate your definition. This may be a slippery sloap or classical circular reasoning abiut a fix point. Critically, "truth" is not mathematically defined (cf. foundational crisis in mathematics), but they still produce result. ... Or do you mean a form of point-free logic?
    – vectory
    Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 13:43

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