Thursday, July 31, 2008

Prototype Semantics and Crossword Puzzles

Returning to yesterday's post - an example of how prototype semantics are used on a daily basis is exhibited by some of the common methods used in solving crossword puzzles. Prototype semantic categories are an important part of the mental process people use in solving a crossword puzzle clue. Though it may not seem obvious, the use of these categories goes well beyond synonymous word clues. Prototype categories are also called upon when solving hyponymous, “a kind of” clues. This can be seen by the example clue: a kind of oven. The answer could be oast or kiln as they are both types of ovens. The answer a solver comes up with would depend on what that solver thinks is a more prototypical example of the category oven. When you think about it, a case really could be made for the use of prototype semantics in answering just about every type of clue based on the fact that a solver always looks for the best exemplar to fit the category of every answer. Prototypes can even be considered with the syntactic meanings of clue forms. For example, a clue in the plural will prototypically have an answer that ends in “s” as will a past tense clue prototypically have an answer that ends in “ed”. However, more challenging puzzles often use irregular plurals and tenses so they are not syntactically prototypical. So remember - when working a crossword puzzle the clue answers may not always be the most prototypical ones, but that is usually the best place to start.

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