Many anthropologists have been attracted by procedures of formal semantics, such as com-ponential analysis, and some have noted the possibility of alternative solutions. To my knowledge, however, none have given consideration to the total number of alternative solutions that are logically possible, and to the implications of that number for the problem of indeterminacy, and to the implications of indeterminacy for semantic analysis. Componen-tial analysis is applied to a set of terms which form a culturally relevant domain and proceeds by recognizing semantic distinctions (components) which apportion the terms of the set into contrasting sub-sets, such that every item is distinguished from every other item by at least one component. Subsets can be arrived at in many alternative ways, however, and in the following discussion I will first consider the wide number of possible choices (II). Then I will consider the relation of the number of possibilities to the “cognitive” status of solutions, and conclude by stating what limited but real value I consider componential analyses to have (III).

From American Anthropologist, 66: 20-28; with comments by Dell H. Hymes and Charles O. Frake and a rejoinder by Robbins Burling, American Anthropologist, 66: 116-122. Reprinted by permission of the publisher and the authors. Robbins Burling is Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan. Dell H. Hymes is Professor of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, and Charles O. Frake is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Stanford University.