My Semantics class have started a unit of logic and I've found myself surprisingly fascinated by it. On my lecturer's advice I've been doing some reading on the subject (books like "The language instinct" and "Everything that linguists have wanted to know about logic but were too ashamed to ask") and feel that I've learned a lot about the topic, except for one thing.
I've learned a lot about logic and how to apply it in linguistics, but I don't really feel comfortable talking about WHY we use it. I know what I think on the subject; I believe that we use logic because languages don't really reflect reality, but rather our perception of it (if a language COULD perfectly describe reality, we wouldn't need so many of them!). The rigidity of logic allows us to sort out ambiguities and get at the real meaning behind words and sentences. I'm still unsure about its ability to translate concepts.
What do other people think? Why DO we utilise such a rigid, rule- based thing as logic to describe something as fluid and illogical as language?
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Hello Guest

Doubts about 'logic' and 'linguistics': Julia Kristeva covers some related aspects in her book 'Desire in Language' (1980). One well known essay from this collection is 'The Ethics of Linguistics'. Her premise, as I understand it – and I'm not entirely certain I follow every step of her argument – is that e.g. the 'poetic' use of language isn't wholly susceptible to analysis of the kind you describe. (Unfortunately, I can't find the text online, but your tutor may have a copy.)

I don't myself know much about these things; but I'm not convinced that logic alone does allow us to 'get at the real meaning'. Often the meaning of a sentence is more than the accumulated meaning of its individual components; to take a simple example, any sentence that includes the phrase 'to be or not to be' is replete with associations that a straightforward logical analysis would fail to discover.

On the other hand, the editors of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language explicitly reject the idea that to understand how English works today, you have to know something of its history and how it worked in the past. (I'd hesitate to suggest that this approach represented a post-facto rationalization of their own limitations.)

Hello, Guest. I'm not a linguist nor a specialist of formal semantics, but I suffered from the same question when I was learning it. Having spent quite a bit of time, paper and ink, now I think it's worth while to acquire it, or at least to understand its basics if you are really interested in the analysis of language. At the same time I think things were more easier for me if I understood WHY we needed this rigid formal language in the first place. So if I could give you some help, I will be very glad. It has, however, its limitation. You should be aware of that. But maybe I will take an attitude a little bit more approving of its usefulness than MrPedantic's view.

I'm willing to help you as much as I can, but I really don't know where/how to begin with. I think the following excerpt contains a fairly important concept:

[ Logic does not go into the actual meanings of particular expressions, but we do determine the nature of their meanings and give a semantic interpretation to the syntactic rules by means of which sentences may be obtained (Gamut,vol.1:1991:5) ]

Would you pose questions to us more concretely...? I'll do my best.
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As a post scriptum. If you pose a question such as " Do languages represent a reality? " or " What is the meaning? " you will surely get lost in a metaphysical labyrinth. You'll never get a concrete answer (I guess). If you use a model-theoretic semantics, we can get rid of these kind of metaphysical matters. It's one advantage of formal semantics, in my opinion.

We'll be waiting for your post.
I don't really mind linguisticians. But for some reason, I always seem to land on linguistics threads at slightly dyspeptic moments.

... for some reason ??
Would you mind my putting in a word above...? I hope you wouldn't.
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Please do, Roro! I welcome your words.

Thank you.


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