What is context for? Syntax in a non-abstract world

Journal of Logic, Language and Information 14 (2):235-251 (2005)
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An explanation for the uncertain progress of formalist linguistics is sought in an examination of the concept of syntax. The idea of analyzing language formally was made possible by developments in 20th century logic. It has been pointed out by many that the analogy between natural language and a formal system may be imperfect, but the objection made here is that the very concept of syntax, when applied to any non-abstract system of communication, is flawed as it is commonly used. Syntax is properly defined with respect to an individual transformation rule that might be applied to some message. Collections of syntax rules, however, are inevitably due to categories imposed by an observer, and do not correspond to functional features found in non-abstract systems. As such, these categories should not be relied upon as aids to understanding any natural system.



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