What is the unit of semantic analysis? A word by itself does not mean a great deal. It means more when associated with other words, i.e. when used in a specific context. Together they can be regarded as constituting a model. When building a model one must choose the appropriate variables for them. Words suitable for one context or model are not necessarily appropriate for another. Thus the words used in ordinary language are not always appropriate for the more objective models built by scientists; they were developed for a more subjective model that has come down to us as part of our cultural heritage. The fact that contexts are often implicit rather than explicit makes it possible to use words in such a way as to convey to them their meaning when used in a totally different context. This is the basis of many ambiguities and verbal tricks. It is facilitated by our tendency towards “nominal realism”, i.e. towards regarding words as real things as opposed to units of a model designed to represent real situations for specific purposes. It is only by regarding them in the latter way that such ambiguities can be avoided.
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