Burghard B. Rieger:

Linguistic Semantics and the Problem of Vagueness: on analysing and representing word meaning

In: Ager, D.E./Knowles, F.E./Smith, J. (eds.): Advances in Computer-aided Literary and Linguistic Research, Birmingham (AMLC University of Aston Pr.) 1979, pp. 271-288

One cannot ignore the impression, when going through the indexes of a sufficiently large number of relevant works in linguistics or language theory, that vagueness - other than, for instance, ambiguity - has in the majority of cases not yet gained the status of a keyword signalling a topic of current interest.

This might seem rather a paradox considering the fact that modern linguistics, and its development of formal theory in particular, has been deeply influenced by the ideas of a number of theoreticans, i.e. logicians, mathematicians, and philosophers, who, for their part, have been well aware of the vagueness of natural languages, and have reflected upon it, characterizing it as the problem of dealing precisely with the phenomena of imprecision. As their considerations have quite evidently fallen into oblivion, some of them ought to be mentioned in the following. Firstly, I shall be trying to illustrate very briefly the theoretical background of this paper, touching upon both referential and structural semantic theory in linguistics. Secondly, I shall sketch the course of my own, more empirical approach in analysing and describing natural language meaning within the frame of a pragmatically-based generative model of structural semantics. Thirdly, and finally, I shall give some examples from computational experiments on a corpus of nineteenth century German students' poetry to illustrate the feasibility of the approach.

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