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Author & Title: Giorgio Marchetti, Foundations of Attentional Semantics (Giorgio Marchetti Copyright 2003).


Abstract: Words are tools that pilot attention. As such, they can be analyzed in terms of the attentional changes they convey. In this article, the process by which words produce attentional changes in the subject hearing or reading them is examined. A very important step in this process is represented by the subject’s conscious experience of the meaning of words. The conscious experience of the meaning differs from the conscious experience of images and perceptions in that the former lacks the qualitative properties of the latter; moreover, while meanings refer to a whole class of objects or events, images and perceptions do not. The peculiar quality and the context- and object-independent character of this form of consciousness is determined by the kind of elements that constitute meanings: attentional operations. As shown by the psychological literature on attention, and by personal experience, attention can be variously piloted to perform several kinds of operations: it can be oriented, focused at variable levels of size and intensity, sustained for variable amounts of time, each single attentional operation can be variously combined with other attentional operations, forming an orderly, albeit complex, sequence of attentional operations, etc. Each meaning is composed of a specific sequence of attentional operations. This sequence represents the skeleton that supports and allows the conversion or actualization of the meaning into any of its sensible, perceptible instances. It is precisely the presence of the attentional operations that induces in the subjects the conscious experience of the meaning.

The subject learns the meanings of words by focusing its attention on the attentional operations that constitute them. The capacity, here labelled as a meta-attentional one, to isolate the attentional operation constituting the meaning does not entail a secondary process occurring at a different level from, but simultaneous with, the primary process to be analyzed. On the contrary, the analyzing process occurs at the same level - the conscious one - as the analyzed process, but a moment later: the subject becomes conscious of the attentional operations constituting the meaning simply by performing them.

Once the process that makes it possible for words to produce attentional changes is explained, and the kind of components constituting meanings is identified, the foundations of Attentional Semantics are laid: the road to analyze the meaning of words in terms of attentional operations is open.

Keywords: attention, conscious experience, meaning, words, language, attentional operations, semantics

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