Last time we looked at how a word-word junction delivers an atom of meaning to cognition. This time we’ll see how the set of junctions in a sentence builds up a whole molecule of meaning.
A grammatical sentence consists of junctions allowed by the lexicon. A word shared by more than one junction must use the same P / C / M in each. A two-junction sentence:
There is no need for an overall structure (as shown) to be built. The meaning of the whole sentence emerges piecemeal. Ultimately sentence meaning is a bundle of simple propositions. This conclusion is from reasoning but one piece of empirical evidence supports it: what interlocutors remember from discourse is gist, not sentences.
So John kissed Lucy delivers KISS / AGENT / JOHN (M2 / RX / M1), KISS / PATIENT / LUCY (M2 / RY / M3), plus whatever there is in the mind that surfaces in language as tense, focus etc.
Structure shows means, not meaning
A sentence-as-language can be depicted as a tree or as nested brackets. What determines that structure – word order, inflection etc – is only in the sentence to make the phonological string as brief as possible.
Hominids that communicated by somehow articulating individually the propositions KISS / AGENT / JOHN, KISS / PATIENT / LUCY etc would surely have lost out to others who developed the ability to communicate the same thing much faster with John kissed Lucy. The mental architecture that evolution had already put in place for other purposes could support that.
No stored program
With language knowledge held as in LS7, activation via phonological words leads to delivery of meaning with no separate ‘program’. Supporting evidence comes from impaired speech.
The mental architecture has to be plausible in relation to aphasias. Broca’s is associated with damage in one physical area of the brain, Wernicke’s in another. Any damage to a ‘stored program’ would surely stop language production entirely, not cause the partial disabling characteristic of these aphasias.
More speculatively, a problem with linking the sequence of Cs for a sentence could cause agrammaticism (as in Broca’s?). Similarly a problem with linking the sequence of Ms could deliver inappropriate phonological words in a grammatical sequence (as in Wernicke’s?).
Another difference from LS4 is that, in the LS7 approach, cognitive effect is delivered as soon as possible. Delivery may be immediate for a word joined to a preceding word (for example kissed__Lucy). But a junction might not be fully determined until following words have been encountered.
To illustrate that, let’s start using a scenario with emperor Nero, his wife Poppaea and slave-girl Olivia. Each of these nouns represents a person so semantics can’t suggest their syntactic roles.
(3) Nero gave Olivia …
A verb-object junction gave__Olivia is evident but it’s not yet clear whether Olivia has thematic relation THEME (sentence continues …to Poppaea) or GOAL (sentence continues …a puppy)
Delivery must be delayed where there is uncertainty as in (3). When there is no uncertainty, an M / R / M proposition is fully activated and delivered. Otherwise the possible outcomes have to be covered by multiple M / R / M propositions. Initially the available activation must be shared and nothing can be delivered. When the uncertainty is resolved, all the activation goes to the correct proposition which is then delivered.
At Olivia in (3):
A is the activation level needed for a proposition to be delivered to cognition. When a fully active GOAL / POPPAEA proposition is created, it displaces the half-activation of GOAL / OLIVIA on to THEME / OLIVIA enabling delivery of the latter:
Similarly THEME / PUPPY would force delivery of GOAL / OLIVIA:
The ways a ditransitive like give can be used often include this two-way uncertainty about the role of an argument. Three-way is also possible. For instance, at given in (4), Who can be theme, goal or agent and X can be theme or goal:
(4) Who is X given … ?
Still to come
In (3), treatment of preposition to in one continuation and determiner a in the other should be accounted for. This is not a problem but will not be discussed yet. The purpose of LanguidSlog is to show structure-in-the-mind is a fallacy. The purpose of this piece is simply to show that a solution without structure is possible, not to reveal it entirely.
The approach has nonetheless been tried on to a wide range of syntax – actives, passives, wh-interrogatives, polar-interrogatives, imperatives, coordination (of modifiers, arguments, clauses), subordinate clauses, verb-plus-particle forms (including disambiguation between particle and preposition).
The split-activation tactic as for sentence (3) is widely used. Limits on what can be done using it and limits on grammatical acceptability appear to be connected.
Three crucial points on which the whole approach depends can also be explained. One is how junctions are correctly identified in a one-pass, left-to-right process. Another is how a concept is formed, with parts of its content shared with many other concepts. The third is how language knowledge is acquired.
Watch this space!