Firth 1957 - A Synopsis of Linguistic Theory

"You shall know a word by the company it keeps"

1 Behaviorism

J. R. Firth was a behaviorist. He gave no significance to the idea that language is the expression of inner mental states. Instead, language is simply another mode of behavior that arises between humans. Then in his view, linguists such as Chomsky were not uncovering any actual underlying grammar, but were instead choosing a particular theoretical framework.

2 Contextualism

The meaning of an utterance should consider situational context. This includes what is in the room, what the speaker is looking at, etc. But most relevant to NLP research, Firth also argues that a word's meaning is bound up in it's tendency to be collocated with other words. For example, part of the meaning of the word 'cow' is simply the fact that 'cow' often occurs with 'milk', and 'pasture'.

3 Some confusions to be aware of

Firth insists on using multiple senses of the word 'meaning' when it comes to discussing syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.

4 Useful links

Created: 2021-09-14 Tue 21:44