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3V0534.01 Words and situations: trash can-words, like things seen can be unconsidered (cf. notes # for problem solving analogy) (7/10/79)

A little exploration following Chomsky’s advice that you can probe
language understanding (only) by examining the interpretation of
nonsense — Gretchen’s “snuggle gruggle” shows how easy it is to over
interpret language understanding on the bases of action. This is a
second example (cf. 6/8/79 Trash can).

Peggy picked over the contents of my writing table again today and
found a tulip-shaped tiny metal bell — the end of a light cord. I
directed her: “Peggy, put this in the trash can” as I returned it to her.
She toddled across the room and did so and returned to my table.
Selecting another piece of disposable stuff, I gave it her with “Put this
in the birdbath.” Peggy complied, but carried it to the trash can. In the
third variation, I gave her a roll of scotch tape in a dispenser and said,
“Put this in the icebox.” She put the tape in the trash can. Although we
would not throw it away, Peggy was willing.

Clearly the nouns of destination [?] in these sentences are not
determining what Peggy does. Does she know “birdbath”? No. Does she
know “icebox”? Quite likely — we more often name the refrigerator by
that label instead of “icebox,” but she has doubtless heard me use the
word when trying to raid it. That is, the refrigerator looms large in
Peggy’s life. She tries to get food out of it whenever it is opened and
often is permitted to do so.

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