extensional devices
Copyright 2007 by Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr.

November 18, 2007

There are five extensional devices indicated in general semantics

1. Indexes } Working Devices  
2. Dates
3. Etc.
4. Quotes Safety Devices  
5. Hyphens

The Working Devices

1. & 2. Indexing (and dating) distinguishes among individuals and events in place and time (dating is just indexing in time), and as such expresses a formulation that is more extensional - less intensional. For example, if I say, "Grass is green.", I have used an abstract formulation - a generalization, but, if I say, "This [a demonstrative] grass is green now (indexical).", I have used a more extensional formulation that indicates a particular patch of grass (indexed) at particular time (dating) [determined by the context].  And if I say, "This grass is basic green number 5 now.", I have used an even more extensional formulation by indexing "grass" (location), "now" (time), and "green" [Methylene Green].  (Demonstratives index by pointing.)

Indexing and dating operate to select more extensional "specifics".

3. The Princeton University WorldNet defines etc. as

In general semantics the common usage for "etc." is to say or write a couple of synonyms and tack on "etc.".  We do this in view of "the map is not the territory", specifically, "the word is not the thing", expecting, hoping, that the listener will bring forth an appropriate concept-by-intuition semantic reaction.  For example, if I write "ball, sphere, etc.", I am expecting, hoping that the reader will not think of a formal dance "ball" or a "sphere" of influence; I'm hoping the reader will bring forth the concept formulated as a three-dimensional object with a surface approximately equidistant from a central point. Consequently we are linking together words which have a similar meaning so as to reduce the likelihood that the reader will interpret the word in a manner not desired by the speaker.  Consider: "The boy was running to the ball to impress his girl."   [possible additional context: (1) "When he got there, he picked it up and tossed it back to her." (2) "When he got there, they danced together the rest of the night.".]  "Etc." links together similar items.  As an extensional device, it links together words which share similar meanings.  We can use it to link different phrases, sentences, and even whole paragraphs, in an effort to suggest to the reader to abstract something common to the linked formulations.

"Etc." operates to select more intensional generalizations as well as to help select from among different possibilities - thus reducing ambiguity. 

"Etc." is also used in general semantics to mean "and more"; this comes from the principle "the map covers not all the territory" or "you can't say 'all' about anything".  Although "etc." conventionally means "and so on" or "more of the same", in this case it means "more",  "more not the same", other things I might have said but did not, more than I can say.  In this way it acts as an "open door" for the reader to bring in other formulations which the reader abstracts as capable of extending the given list.

The Safety Devices

4. The Princeton University WorldNet defines quotation mark as

 According to Wikipedia, "Scare quotes is a general term for quotation marks used for purposes other than to identify a direct quotation."

... [T]his technique is used ... to:

It is in this sense, the sense of "scare quotes", that general semantics uses quotation marks as an extensional device.  Used in this way they indicate to the reader that the word or phrase in quotes may not be being used in the conventional manner.  One source from which this usage derives is politics, where one party selects a word or phrase to label something that does not meet the requirements of that label, and the other party directly quotes the first party's usage, but inserts the word or phrase in a context that indicates disbelief or otherwise suggests the falsity of the original usage.  In this situation a direct quote does not mean what the word or phrase normally means.

A direct quote reports the exact words of another person, whereas an indirect quote reports the "meaning" of those words, usually, but not necessarily, paraphrased.

Scare quotes indicate opaque usage; one must know the context if one is to hazard a guess as to what any "scare-quoted" text means.

General semantics also recommends using "scare quotes" whenever one uses a word identified by Korzybki (and his subsequent followers) as an "elementalism".

5.  The Princeton University WorldNet defines hyphen as

General semantics describes, evaluates, judges, etc., certain abstract words and labels them with the term "elementalism". Korzybki and followers claim that these words represent aspects of our environment that "can not be non-verbally split". The proposed solution recommends using the words only as part of compound words which include other aspects of our environment so as to include those aspects that can not be split non-verbally. We are thus "commanded" to use these hyphenated combinations.  One of the paradigm case examples takes the words 'space' and 'time' and hyphenates them to form 'space-time', calling it a "non-elementalism". (Another is "body-mind".) It is alleged that by using "space-time" as a compound, and refraining from using "space" or "time" simpliciter,  one uses language with a "structure" similar to the putative "structure" of what is going on.

This view as expressed above, is somewhat simplistic itself, in that it treats the words in terms of their common referents; it does not take into consideration that our abstracting (mapping activity), both non-verbal and verbal, both cognitive and linguistic, operates at multiple levels of abstracting.  It is the putative "territory" to which these non-elementalisms refer that presumably can not be split (at least according to our current model of physics). When we cognize and speak of specific events, we include both place and time, and we must use language that specifies (indexes) both. -- But there are also situation for which we abstract, at a higher level, one or the other of  these characteristics.

Hyphenating two abstract concept words focuses attention at a lower, more extensional, level of abstraction than using one or the other of the abstract words simpliciter. But we are not always operating at such lower levels of abstraction. Sometimes one of the so-called "elementalistic" more appropriately directs the attention of the reader to a higher level of abstraction - the focus of attention of the writer/speaker.

Annotated bibliography of general semantics papers
General Semantics and Related Topics

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