The Effect of Human Experience on Formal Word Meaning

Russell Jay Hendel
Bridges Donostia: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture (2007)
Pages 313–314


We formally introduce experience and memory as a component of dictionary meaning. The current approach to word meaning focuses on computer applicability. Currently, meaning is determined by lexicon lookup and verification of attributes. We use the adjective big to illustrate an experiential approach to meaning: An object, relative to a class, is big, if the object's size is a right-outlier of the distribution of sizes of items of the class. The distribution of sizes of the class items depends in a fundamental way on memory and experience. Some advantages of this experiential approach to meaning are parsimony - one definition accounts for all uses of big - and an account of ambiguity in language