Dean Pettit
University of North Carolina (System)
How do we know what other speakers say? Perhaps the most natural view is that we hear a speaker's utterance and infer what was said, drawing on our competence in the syntax and semantics of the language. An alternative view that has emerged in the literature is that native speakers have a non-inferential capacity to perceive the content of speech. Call this the perceptual view. The disagreement here is best understood as an epistemological one about whether our knowledge of what speakers say is epistemically mediated by our linguistic competence. The present paper takes up the question of how we should go about settling this issue. Arguments for the perceptual view generally appeal to the phenomenology of speech comprehension. The present paper develops a line of argument for the perceptual view that draws on evidence from empirical psychology. The evidence suggests that a speaker's core syntactic and semantic competence is typically deployed sub-personally (e.g., by something like a module). The point is not just that the competence is tacit or unconscious, but that the person is not the locus of the competence. I argue that standing competence can enter into the grounds for knowledge only if it is subject to a certain sort of epistemic assessment, an assessment that is appropriate only if the person is the locus of that competence. If the person is not the locus of a speaker's core linguistic competence, as the psychological evidence suggests, then that competence does not enter into the grounds for our knowledge of what speakers say. If this line of argument is right, it has implications for the epistemology of perception and for our understanding of how empirical psychology bears on epistemology generally.
Keywords meaning  understanding  epistemology of testimony  epistemology  perception  speech perception  speech comprehension  knowledge of language
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Reprint years 2010
DOI 10.4148/biyclc.v5i0.286
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References found in this work BETA

Content Preservation.Tyler Burge - 1993 - Philosophical Review 102 (4):457.
Semantic Theory and Tacit Knowledge.Gareth Evans - 2010 - In Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel (eds.), Arguing About Language. Routledge.
What’s Within? Nativism Reconsidered.Fiona Cowie - 1998 - Oxford University Press USA.
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Citations of this work BETA

On What We Experience When We Hear People Speak.Anders Nes - 2016 - Phenomenology and Mind 10:58-85.
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Understanding as Knowledge of Meaning.Alex Barber - 2013 - Philosophy Compass 8 (10):964-977.

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