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Constructing concepts and word meanings: the role of context and memory traces

Urquiza Arribas, C; (2015) Constructing concepts and word meanings: the role of context and memory traces. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The main aim of this thesis is to develop a new account of concepts and word meaning which provides a fully adequate basis for inferential accounts of linguistic communication, while both respecting philosophical insights into the nature of concepts and cohering with empirical findings in psychology on memory processes. In accord with the ‘action’ tradition in linguistic theorising, I maintain that utterance/speaker meaning is more basic than sentence meaning and that the approach to word meaning that naturally follows from this is ‘contextualism’. Contextualism challenges two assumptions of the traditional ‘minimalist’ approach to semantics: (i) that semantics (rather than pragmatics) is the appropriate locus of propositional content (hence truth-conditions); and, (ii) that words contribute stable, context-independent meanings to the sentences in which they appear. I set out two stages in the development of an adequate contextualist account of utterance content. The first provides an essential reformulation of the early insights of Paul Grice by demonstrating the unavoidability of pragmatic contributions to truth-conditional content. The second argues that the ubiquity of context-dependence justifies a radically different view of word meaning from that employed in all current pragmatic theorising, including relevance theory: rather than words expressing concepts or encoding stable meanings of any sort, both concepts and word meanings are constructed ad hoc in the process of on-line communication/interpretation, that is, in their situations of use. Finally, I show how my account of word meaning is supported by recent research in psychology: context-dependence is also rampant in category and concept formation, and multiple-trace memory models show how information distributed in memory across a multitude of previous occasions of language use can come together to build an occasion-specific word meaning, thereby bypassing the need for fixed word meanings.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Constructing concepts and word meanings: the role of context and memory traces
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: word meaning, concepts, memory, contextualism, meaning eliminativism
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1463235
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