Slabs, SMS, and Semantic Dependence

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Liana Raguso


What does it mean for one linguistic expression to be ‘short for’ an- other? This paper claims that ‘short for’ constitutes a psychological rather than formal relationship. To develop this definition, I will turn to later Wittgenstein, seeking to adjudicate a debate between Wittgenstein and his interlocutor in Philosophical Investigations: while the interlocutor claims that a builder’s cry of “Slab!” must be ‘short for’ “Bring me a slab,” Wittgenstein calls this view into question. Their debate puts forth two plausible definitions of the ‘short for’ relationship, one based on formal necessity and the other on mental behavior. We will evaluate these definitions by examining a case study which was not available to Wittgenstein: the variable uses of texting abbreviations. Texters’ use of such abbreviations independently from their parent phrases discredits the logical definition of ‘short for’. Through an examination of how non-texters use the same abbreviations, I propose an alternate definition of ‘short for’ centered around the act of mentally translating between one phrase and another.

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