Under The Sun

Wednesday, May 12, 2004


In response to Marc Moffett:

>> The puzzle of Escher sentences is that we don't notice their semantic infelicity.

I don't see why this is a puzzle at all; it's a fact about human psychology, not a fact about semantics. We can understand incorrect sentences the same way we can understand misspelled English.

Relatedly, the question how a given speech act should be interpreted is quite independent of the question what the sentence formally means; interpretation, moreover, depends crucially on context, so I don't think it's correct to say that "[i]t's actually clear in broad terms what [is] intended". I agree that one particular interpretation of this particular sentence recommends itself as most likely, but that certainly doesn't make the sentence "mean" that interpretation.

Formally, it seems to me, "More people have thought about Escher sentences than I have." is a statement whose truth depends on the number of people I "have"; there are certainly contexts in which one may be said to have people, e.g. when making a dinner reservation. But that's irrelevant to the sentence's Escherness, which doesn't even require that the sentence have a meaning at all. Escherness is merely a psychological phenomenon, not really a language puzzle at all.

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