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Corcoran, J. 2007. Syntactics, American Philosophy: an Encyclopedia. 2007. Eds. John Lachs and Robert Talisse. New York: Routledge. pp.745-6. Syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics are the three levels of investigation into semiotics, or the comprehensive study of systems of communication, as described in 1938 by the American philosopher Charles Morris (1903-1979). Syntactics studies signs themselves and their interrelations in abstraction from their meanings and from their uses and users. Semantics studies signs in relation to their meanings, but still in abstraction from their uses and users. Pragmatics studies signs as meaningful entities used in various ways by humans. Taking current written English as the system of communication under investigation, it is a matter of syntactics that the two four-character strings ‘tact’ and ‘tics’ both occur in the ten-character string ‘syntactics’. It is a matter of semantics that the ten-character string ‘syntactics’ has only one sense and, in that sense, it denotes a branch of semiotics. It is a matter of pragmatics that the ten-character string ‘syntactics’ was not used as an English word before 1937 and that it is sometimes confused with the much older six-character string ‘syntax’. Syntactics is the simplest and most abstract branch of semiotics. At the same time, it is the most basic. Pragmatics presupposes semantics and syntactics; semantics presupposes syntactics. The basic terms of syntactics include the following: ‘character’ as alphabetic letters, numeric digits, and punctuation marks; ‘string’ as sign composed of a concatenation of characters; ‘occur’ as ‘t’ and ‘c’ both occur twice in ‘syntactics’. However, perhaps the most basic terms of syntactics are ‘type’ and ‘token’ in the senses introduced by Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), America’s greatest logician, who could be considered the grandfather of syntactics, if not the father. These are explained below.

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John Corcoran
PhD: Johns Hopkins University; Last affiliation: University at Buffalo


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