Empty representations in linguistic perception

Georges Rey
University of Maryland, College Park
I argue that, pace Chomsky (2000, 2003), standard theories of linguistic competence are committed to taking talk of representations seriously, in particular, to recognizing that the “of x” clause that invariably follows “representation” is a way of specifying that representation’s intentional content. One reason to insist upon intentional content in such cases is that the “x” in “of x” may not exist (as in "of Zeus"). This issue is especially relevant to linguistics since, recapitulating considerations raised by many linguists, I go on to argue that most of the SLEs themselves seldom, if ever exist: it is doubtful there are many, if any, tokens of them in space and time; indeed, their existence is by and large inessential to the needs of either communication or serious linguistic theory. All that linguistic theory requires to be real in this regard are the representations, presumably entokened in people’s brains, understood, however, in terms of their intentional contents.
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