In a recent post I mentioned that English has no good word for the process reverse to that of abstraction. Writing that reminded me of a long and fascinating conversation in about 2002 on this very issue with my former colleague, Trevor Bench-Capon, who sadly passed on this past week (on Monday 20 May 2024).

After considering various alternatives, we found no word seemed exactly apposite: Instantiation would be appropriate if we were inserting values for under-specified variables or model parameters, but the word does not seem adequate if we doing something other than this. If we have no formal model, then what are we doing when we move from the more abstract to the more concrete? Perhaps Concretization fits, but this word sounds artificial and perhaps has too much of a connotation of a 5-year plan. The word proposed by Norwegian philosopher of argumentation (and environmentalism) Arne Naess, precization, also sounds artificial and is somewhat ugly. I recall that in the end we settled on reification, although this sounds a little too abstract for the process we are trying to describe.

I am reminded of Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea (in Discourse in the Novel, written in 1934-35) that the words we use come to us pre-loaded with the intentions of previous speakers:

Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated – overpopulated – with the intentions of others.”

Trevor was one of the funniest people I ever met, as I recorded ten years ago in a blog post on fast wits I have known, here. He is sadly missed.

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