“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” - True, false or meaningless?

Esa Itkonen

Abstract


The slogan in the title of this article is meaningless in a context where the notion of “sum” does not apply. It is false in a context where the whole is equal to (or indistinguishable from) the sum of its parts. Having only a metaphorical meaning, it is neither clearly true nor clearly false in a context where no numerical value can be assigned to this relation of magnitude (which is typically the case in linguistics). In this article, however, a unit of measurement is devised which makes it possible to decide whether a linguistic whole is greater or smaller than the sum of its parts. In the former case the slogan is true whereas in the latter case it is, once again, false.

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