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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Self-Referential Sentences - Dead Beat Lays Down A Challenge

So Dead Beat as you know has been chewing the fat with Douglas R. Hofstadter on Self-Referential Sentences - sentences which refer to themselves.

Here are a few D.B. enjoys:

- I have heard this sentence is a rumour.

- You have just started to read the sentence you have just finished reading.

- The only point of this sentence is to make clear what is the point of this sentence.

A variant of this: This sentence contains exactly threee errors.

Some of the sentences depend on the difference between use and mention - the use-mention distinction.

When a word is used to refer to something, it is said to be used. When a word is quoted (to be examined for its surface aspects - typographical, phonetic etc) it is said to be mentioned.

You can't have "your cake" and spell it "too".

Another possibility is the ambiguous nature of the first-person pronoun "I". does "I" refer to the speaker or to the sentence?

I am not the subject of this sentence.

I am simultaneously writing and being written.

Expanding on this ambiguity: As long as you are not reading me, the fourth word of this sentence has no referent.

Hey out there - is that you reading me, or is it someone else?

What about sentences with ambiguous referents?

Thit sentence is not self-referential because "thit" is not a word.

Then there are counterfactual conditionals - sentences which postulate in their first clause (the antecedent) some contrary to fact situation and extrapolates in its second clause (the consequent) some consequence of it (phew! - are you glad to get to the end of this sentence?)

If wishes were horses, the antecedent of this conditional would be true.

This sentence would be seven words long if it were six words shorter.

So Dead Beat thanks The Hofmaster and lays down a challenge for all you would be writers out there.

Am I the best sentence there is?

Please send your samples along.


Mary said...

Dont know if I'm off the mark here, but what about Dylan's version of Lay Lady Lay in Kilkenny, Ireland-June 26-"You can eat your cake and have it too"

Funny, it stuck in my mind.

Dead Beat said...

Yeah, so Bob thinks!

Sorry though, the sentence does not reference itself.

Now here's a question, has Bob self-referenced himself in any songs? Does he mention his own name?

Mary said...

Well, in Gotta Serve Somebody he sings, "You can call me Terry, you can call me Timmy, you can call me Bobby or you can call me Zimmy." I bet that's not self referencing you mean though! :-)