Janta-Polczynski, D.Sc., Martin
Glendon College
York University

Martin Janta-Polczynski, D.Sc.
Department of Computer Science
Glendon College
York University
2275 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Canada M4N 3M6

Strand: discourse English

Title: Sense-fixation in scientific domains makes scientific discourse possible: A simple illustration using scales and fuzziness

The scientific enterprise is in a large measure a semiotic enterprise. Doing science involves the creation of a specific sublanguage tailor-made to the domain under investigation. There are basically 2 ways to go about it:

1 - either one uses a specially designed formal language; this has been the route taken by some of the exact sciences heavily mathematicized; 2 - or one reassigns the current meanings to terms of natural language (single words, but very often compound expressions) in what is at first a cognitively motivating process of metaphor creation, but must ultimately lead - if we want to remain on a scientific footing - to an explicit redefinition of the new term within the semiotic framework in the discipline.

The "semantic cycle" which results can be summed up in the following schema:

       lexical         local           textual      domain
       meaning         meaning         meaning      meaning           
|                                                                    |
V                                                                    V
|                                                                    |
|                                                                    |
     (most fuzzy)                            (defuzzified)

As an illustration, suppose we have to work out a semantics for a series of adjectives that deal with the same scalar phenomenon, e.g. temperature :

icy < freezing < very cold < cold < pleasant < lukewarm < warm < very warm < torrid < hot < very hot < burning < ...

But once we want to use these terms precisely for some technical endeavour, in a technical domain, we would jointly "defuzzify" their meanings by giving exact boundaries to each term, the end of one term becoming the start of another. Structural semanticists would say that we have created a semantic micro-system within language; but obviously we have gone beyond what the meaning of these terms in language as a whole warrants. This shows what we already expected, namely that their meanings in the standard language are inherently fuzzy. Fuzzy logic then becomes a very obvious tool to represent these meanings, as for representing the meaning of linguistic hedges (i.e devices for fuzzifying or defuzzifying) as was shown by Zadeh and by Lakoff. The combination of these unavoidably fuzzy semantics with a mathematically-based fuzzy logic and a logically- based approach to meaning seems to be a rich if ambitiously extended field.