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Semantic Analysis by Paul Ziff

Review by: Paul Benacerraf

The Journal of Symbolic Logic, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Dec., 1964), pp. 193-194
Published by: Association for Symbolic Logic
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Volume 29, Number 4, Dec. 1964

Numerical cross references are to previous reviews in this JOURNAL or to A bibli-

ographyof symboliclogic (this JOURNAL, vol. 1, pp. 121-218), or to Additions and

correctionsto the latter (this JOURNAL, vol. 3, pp. 178-212).

References beginning with a Roman numeral are by volume and page to the place
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of this JOURNAL, or to the publicationwhichis therereviewed; "XXII 307" will refer

to one of the reviews or one of the publications reviewed or listed on page 307 of
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23(1)" will refer to the first item listed on page 23 of volume 23, i.e., to Boehner's
article, History of scholastic logic.
References such as 7145, 1253 are the entries so numbered in the Bibliography.
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point (as A15524, 186j1, 2882.1) are to the Additions and corrections. A reference
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Bibliography and in the Additions and corrections.
Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1960, xi +
255 pp.
The author's principal purpose is to present a metatheoretical account of the
semantics of a natural language. He wishes to show how one might arrive at dictionary
entries for the morphemic elements of a natural language and examines what sorts of
methodological problems might be encountered along the way. Although he does not
attempt to provide a discovery procedure for dictionary entries, he does outline in
some detail what he expects would be the major steps in such an investigation. We
shall try to reproduce this outline here, greatly oversimplifying as we go.
It is assumed at the outset that the linguist has a grammar of the language, in the
sense of Chomsky (cf. Noam Chomsky, Syntactic structures, The Hague 1957),
i.e., one which generates all and only the grammatical utterances of the language
and assigns a structural description to each. The procedure is then to pair utterance
types with sets of conditions such that the pairing [uid, wj] expresses a regularity to
be found in connection with the utterance ua. These pairings are obtained in two
differentways: (a) by observations carried out in the context of utterance - in which
case the regularity takes the form "Generally, when ui is uttered, then conditions wj
are satisfied"; and (b) by projection (to be discussed below) - in which case the
regularity takes the form "If ui is uttered, then, in a standard case, conditions wj
are satisfied." Since many regularities of the first sort will obtain which will not be
relevant to an analysis of the meaning of morphological elements of ui (let ui be "I have
a toothache ." and the condition wtbe that the Sun is ninety-three million miles from
the Earth, a condition which will presumably be associated with every utterance),
proposed pairings are judged for possible relevance according to certain principles,
and those judged irrelevant are excluded (cf. Chapter II).
Accordingly, let 0 be the set of utterances for which relevant observational pairings
have been obtained. These pairings are then used to associate with each morphological
element mi of 0 that has meaning in the language conditions which might plausibly


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represent the contribution made by mt to the utterances in which it appears. Taking

meaning to be primarily a matter of non-syntactic semantic regularities and of contrast,
Ziff forms the conditions to be associated with mi by taking into consideration both
those conditions associated with each element of 0 that contains mt, and each element
of 0 that contains a morphological element that contrasts with mi. Letting dj(mt) be
the j-th element of 0 (under some enumeration) which contains mi, then dj(mt)lmk
is that element of 0 which results by replacing mi with mk in dj(mt). We call the first
set the distributive set for mi in 0, and, relative to any given element dj(mi) of the
distributive set, dj(mt)lmk is an element of the contrastive set for mi in 0. Keeping
i, j, and k fixed, and ignoring many complications which Ziff points out, then the
peculiar contribution made by mi to dj(mi) will be those conditions associated with
dj(mt) minus those associated with dj(mt)lmk. Letting A vary you obtain a set of
sets of conditions for the j-th element of the distributive set for mi. Letting j vary
as well, you associate with mi a set of sets of setsof conditions. Eliminating irrelevant ones
according to further principles (cf. pp. 160-6) Ziff finally obtains a set (of sets of sets
of conditions) on the basis of which the dictionary entry is to be devised. The dictionary
entry for mi is conceived of as a theory to explain the regularities thus obtained.
Given these dictionary definitions it will then be possible to project conditions
(i.e., derived pairings) onto utterances not in 0- utterances not yet uttered, or infrequently uttered, or with respect to which no relevant regularities have been found
on the first level. Also, since the language under study will probably contain metalinguistic statements, further projections can be made on the basis of the knowledge
at hand: "A bachelor is an unmarried man." can be used to obtain conditions pertaining
to "bachelor" even if that word does not occur in 0, although the others do. So,
pairings obtained by projection serve as correctives to the original assignment, if
they are disconfirmed, and as a means to extending the analysis to utterances not in 0.
The final chapter is devoted to an application of these techniques to an analysis
of the English word "good."
Unquestionably, a theory of this sort raises many more problems and questions
than it can settle. That is one of its virtues. Many of these have been discussed by
other reviewers (cf. XXIX 2 16(12) and XXIX 2 16(13) for more comprehensive and
searching reviews). Nevertheless, this reviewer found the book an extremely stimulating and original one. It is, to this reviewer's knowledge, the firstsystematic attempt
to write on these questions. Whether or not a completed semantic theory of a natural
language will have the form outlined in this book, it will certainly have to deal
decisively with the problems raised by Ziff. Of interest to philosophers will be the
question whether the notion of meaning as explicated by Ziff can serve as the basis
for the traditional philosophical notion(s) of "analytic." It seems clear to this reviewer
that it cannot. A finished semantic analysis a la Ziff will be an empirical theory
containing hypotheses concerning the meaning of morphological elements of the
language. As such, it will provide no sharp way of distinguishing between regularities
associated with mi because certain (non-linguistic) regularities obtain in the world
(e.g. cows are not blue) and those associated with mi for "linguistic" reasons (e.g.
cows are animals). Borderline cases (e.g. a cow is a quadruped) will remain thus.
Also of interest to philosophers, particularly those interested in "linguistic analysis,"
will be the methodological points that are to be drawn concerning the confirmability
of metalinguistic statements about a natural language if Ziff's account is even roughly
correct. Space does not permit discussion of these issues here. PAUL BENACERRAF
Scientific inference. Second edition of VII
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1957, viii + 236 pp.
Harold Jeffreysis the author of several classics in applied and applicable mathe-

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