Category mistakes by Ofra Magidor

By Ofra Magidor

Classification error are sentences equivalent to 'Green principles sleep furiously' or 'Saturday is in bed'. They strike us as hugely infelicitous however it is difficult to give an explanation for accurately why this is often so. Ofra Magidor explores 4 methods to class errors in philosophy of language and linguistics, and develops and defends an unique, presuppositional account.


classification error are sentences similar to 'Green principles sleep furiously' or 'Saturday is in bed'. They strike us as hugely infelicitous however it is tough to provide an explanation for accurately why this can be so. Ofra Magidor Read more...

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29 Fodor (1977), p. 98. See Jackendoff (1972), pp. 18–19 for a similar argument. 39 THE SYNTACTIC APPROACH The problem with such cases is the following. One might envisage a syntactic theory where, for example, ‘is pregnant’ requires an argument with the syntactic feature ‘+female’, and where ‘man’ is marked with the feature ‘−female’. But it is hard to see how any such theory could possibly account for the infelicity of (18). The fact that the noun phrase in (18) represents a person which is not female depends, among other things, on the very specific meanings of ‘prove’ (in particular, that it is factive), and ‘mistaken’ (in particular, that it is anti-factive) and on highly complex interactions between these meanings.

135. The duplication complaint is also reiterated in a slightly different context in Grimshaw (1979), p. 317. 36 THE ARGUMENT FROM PARTICUL AR IT Y features. Perhaps then, the worry is better understood as the complaint that given the semantic-values, the syntactic features are redundant? 3: there are cases where we would want to classify a certain class of features as syntactic, even though these features are fully determined by semantic properties. Syntactic features are those which play a distinctive role in our theory of syntax, independently of what our meta-syntactic theory claims about their relationship to semantic features.

But some care is needed in pinning down precisely what the problem with such a treatment is. One worry might be that adding so many features will make for a highly complicated theory of syntax. 1. 23 The worry is that the proliferation of highly particularized syntactic features would entail that syntax essentially encodes the same lexical information as semantics, in effect collapsing the distinction between syntax and semantics, or the need for both facets of linguistic theorizing. Take for example the syntactic feature ‘+matrix’.

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