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The Science of MeaningEssays on the Metatheory of Natural Language Semantics$
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Derek Ball and Brian Rabern

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198739548

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198739548.001.0001

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What is—or, for that Matter, isn’t—‘Experimental’ Semantics?

What is—or, for that Matter, isn’t—‘Experimental’ Semantics?

(p.46) 1 What is—or, for that Matter, isn’t—‘Experimental’ Semantics?
The Science of Meaning

Pauline Jacobson

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the currently fashionable notion of ‘experimental semantics’, and argues that most work in natural language semantics has always been experimental. The oft-cited dichotomy between ‘theoretical’ (or ‘armchair’) and ‘experimental’ is bogus and should be dropped form the discourse. The same holds for dichotomies like ‘intuition-based’ (or ‘thought experiments’) vs. ‘empirical’ work (and ‘real experiments’). The so-called new ‘empirical’ methods are often nothing more than collecting the large-scale ‘intuitions’ or, doing multiple thought experiments. Of course the use of multiple subjects could well allow for a better experiment than the more traditional single or few subject methodologies. But whether or not this is the case depends entirely on the question at hand. In fact, the chapter considers several multiple-subject studies and shows that the particular methodology in those cases does not necessarily provide important insights, and the chapter argues that some its claimed benefits are incorrect.

Keywords:   experimental semantics, intuitions, thought experiment, discourse context, semantic methodology

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