Z. S. Harris and the semantic turn of mathematical information theory

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This paper aims at presenting Harris’ use of information theory as a specific case of transfer of mathematical concepts and methods into linguistics. First, it will show that distributional analysis had characteristics which made it particu­larly receptive to some aspects of information theory, such as the special status of repe­tition and the treatment of linguistic elements as physical events. Second, this paper will show how Harris gradually incorporated the notions of information theory and methods to address new issues in his own theory: from the identification and classi­fication of linguistic units to the analysis of redundant patterns in utterances and in discourses, and finally to the ultimate objective of developing an information grammar for the sublanguages of sciences. Thus, infor­mation, at first a pure quan­titative entity, underwent a semantic turn when Harris adapted it for linguistic ob­jec­tives.


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