Next assignment --due Tuesday 11/29 (1 page typed).


(Children may use "tall" much like adults do, at age 4. Here is a precocious example.!)

1. meaning game

You are at a party and overhear the following: "Her gift was too tall for his bedroom."  You don't know the people or who actually said it --yet you wonder what the gift is?  Write down at least 5 guesses.  Now imagine you heard "Her gift was too long for his bedroom."  Write down 5 guesses.  Why is the list different?  It is due to the meaning difference between tall and long.  Now tell me in a few paragraphs what that meaning might be for tall.

2.  What does "tall" mean?

Write a summary of the meaning of the English adjective "tall."  Here is a number of hints or suggestions on how to proceed.

2.1. Check a dictionary but don't stop there.  Ignore the sense relating to exaggeration as in "tall tale" and focus on the sense relating to physical object size.


2.2. While you can't write in "Mentalese", you can use English as a kind of metalanguage with your description of the meaning of tall as indicative of the primitive semantic units necessary in any such language of thought.


2.3.  The real work here is to collect/create a list of example phrases and sentences that contain "tall" and then to extract what is the common denominator of all those uses.  Stick to the everyday dimensional uses.  You also might look at phrases that would be bizarre WITH tall.

2.3.1. "tall glass, grass, lamp, weeds, pines……"  But not "tall rugs, newspapers, or thoughts."

2.3.2. "I am taller than my brother."

2.3.3. "How tall are you?"

2.3.4. "You are tall for a dwarf!"

2.3.5.  "I am only 5 feet tall."

2.3.6.  "She is so tall that her mom needs a ladder to brush her hair."


4.  About the only information we have about word meanings is their contribution to their phrases and clauses.  What did "tall" contribute to the "gift" sentence?  To each of the above sentences?


5.  An important tool in all linguistic research is to determine the linguistic distribution of the element in question -- what is its pattern of use?  Words that have similar distributions --appear in similar syntactic environments -- tend to have similar meanings.[1] What elements does it contrast with?  In this case, you might compare similar forms to tall --short and long for example.  How does interchanging these forms change the pattern of inferences listeners might draw from hearing the revised sentence?  In other words, what "gifts" might be primed (come to mind) if you overhead …gift was too long….


6.  Avoid appealing to polysemy (ambiguity or different meanings) and metaphor as much as possible.  While these are part of language, it is too easy to say each use of tall has its own meaning or is a metaphor. 


7.  Some questions to ponder--

Does tall contribute something different in each sentence or does the "product" of tall and context give the difference?

Would you say a woman in heels is taller whereas you would not say that a book on a table is taller than a book on the floor..?

If I were comparing Shaq (BIG basketball player) to a giraffe or elephant,  would I have to describe Shaq as being small?

8.  Pinker, ch. 7, talks of the "vast database" used in comprehension.  What aspects of that knowledge play a role here?

[1]This is the basis for "syntactic bootstrapping" in the acquisition of new words.  Suppose at a different party, you overhear "Professor Limber is too trutly to play golf."  Why isn't he playing?