Natural Semantic Primitives
I find this theory that all meaning can be broken down into 61 semantic primitives — atoms of thought, if you will — intriguing.
I’m not sure this theory is about language, so much as it is about thought, however. Could it be that we conceive of only sixty-one main ideas?
More interestingly, it’s about culture — it seems a clever tool for unpacking meaning, and whether these 61 words are the atoms of thought or not, it’s a handy algebric notation for trying to undertand a complex concept.
I’m tempted to try my hand at it. Keeping in mind, of course, that I haven’t really read much of the theory in any formal sense, just surfed the page and glanced at a few articles at this point, so I’m probably doing it wrong.
I want something to happen.
I do something like this thing.
This thing happened because I did something.
But something’s wrong there, I think. Because this script could work for lots of things. I mean, it could work for writing a letter.
I want to say something.
I cannot say something.
I do something like saying something.
Or it could work for superstition. Or any number of other ideas. What is it about magic that makes it not superstition and not writing a letter or acting in a play or doing some other symbolic action?
And of course each paradigm of magic would write a different script. For example, the spirit paradigm:
I want something.
I say words to something/ something does not have a body/ something does not live/ something thinks.
Something makes something happen.
Or the energy paradigm:
I want something
I move something/ something often does something/ something does not live/ something does not think/ someone cannot touch something/ something is inside all things/ because of this, things happen.
This something makes something happen.
I’m sure I’m doing this wrong, but it is sort of revealing. After all, the closest I can come to the energy paradigm makes me wonder if this isn’t just the same as the spirit paradigm. I wonder if we boil down all paradigms to primitive semantic units, we might not find that they’re all the same.
I might have to pick up her books.