Why is mutual understanding between two substantially different comprehensive language communities often problematic and even unattainable? To answer this question, the author first introduces a notion of presuppositional languages. Based on the semantic structure of a presuppositional language, the author identifies a significant condition necessary for effective understanding of a language: the interpreter is able to effectively understand a language only if he/she is able to recognize and comprehend its metaphysical presuppositions. The essential role of (...) the knowledge of metaphysical presuppositions in understanding is further strengthened by developing a truth-value conditional theory of understanding. It is concluded that if the interpreter approaches an incompatible alien language from the standpoint of the interpreter's own language by projecting the metaphysical presuppositions of his/her own language upon the alien language, then the mutual understanding between the two language communities is doomed to failure. (shrink)
Human languages, such as French, Cantonese or American Sign Language, are socio- cultural entities. Knowledge of them (`competence') is acquired by exposure to the ap- propriate environment. Languages are maintained and transmitted by acts of speaking and writing; and this is also the means by which languages evolve. The utterances of one generation are processed by their children to form mental grammars, which in some sense summarize, or generalize over, the children's linguistic experiences. These grammars are (...) the basis for the production of a new avalanche of utterances to which the next generation in its turn is subjected. (This picture is simplified, of course, as generations overlap.) Languages inhabit two distinct and separate modes of existence, which have been called (by Chomsky, 1986) `E-Language' and `I-Language'. E-language is the external observable behaviour --- utterances and inscriptions and manifestations of their meanings. E-language is regarded by some as so chaotic and subject to the vicissitudes of everyday human life as to be a poor candidate for systematic study. (E-Language corresponds to what Chomsky, in earlier terminology, called `performance'.) Out of this blooming buzzing confusion the individual child distils an order internal to the mind; the child constructs a coherent systematic set of rules mapping meanings onto forms. This set of rules is the child's I-Language (where `I' is for `internal'). No two individuals' I-Languages have to be the same, although those of people living in the same community will overlap very significantly. But there will usually be at least some slight difference between the I-language features prevalent in one generation and those prevalent in the next. This is the stuff of language evolution, in the sense of the historical development of individual languages, such as Swedish, Navaho or Zulu. (shrink)
Sign languages exhibit all the complexities and evolutionary advantages of spoken languages. Consequently, sign languages are problematic for a theory of language evolution that assumes a gestural origin. There are no compelling arguments why the expanding spiral between protosign and protospeech proposed by Arbib would not have resulted in the evolutionary dominance of sign over speech.
In this paper, after outlining the methodological role Wittgenstein's appeal to language-games is supposed to play, I examine the picture of language which his discussion of such games and their relations to what Wittgenstein calls forms of life suggests. It is a picture according to which language and its employment are inextricably connected to wider contexts—they are embedded in specific natural and social environments, they are tied to purposive activities serving provincial needs, and caught up in distinctive (...) ways of life which creatures of a certain sort enjoy. In the remainder of the paper, I consider whether Wittgenstein's emphasis on the link between language and the circumstances surrounding its use points in the direction of an influential view widespread in contemporary philosophy of language, namely, semantic contextualism. I examine carefully a number of passages which scholars have appealed to in support of the claim that Wittgenstein advances contextualism and argue that they in fact provide no such support. The connection which Wittgenstein sees between what is expressed in the use of words and the circumstances in which they are used is not the connection the contextualist insists on. (shrink)
An idiolectal conception of language is compatible with a substantive role for external things — objects, including other people — in the characterization of idiolects. Illustrations of this role are not hard to come by. The point of looking outward from the individual is pretty evident for the case of reference to perceptually encountered objects: had the world been significantly different, a person with the same molecular history would have acquired, and called by the same familiar names, different physical (...) and other concepts. An idiolectal conception of language is by no means committed, and has some reason to be opposed, to internalism, and to individualism in Burge's sense; that is, to the view that the organization of the body, abstracting from external things, is constitutive of any linguistically significant aspect of language. (shrink)
This paper examines the contradictory demands of using language expressively and still qualifying as language, proposing a functional explanation for the form of words in a linguistic word category. Being expressive requires expending more energy, emitting a more robust signal to convey additional information about the speaker, the perception of an event, etc. Doing so requires violating the common linguistic constraints of everyday language, yet to be recognized as language requires that one’s speech obey these same (...) rules. How speakers satisfy these demands tells us about language in both its function and form. The resolution of this dilemma requires the use of suprasegmental rather than segmental features, e.g., a wider range of and more varied use of F0. Because prosodic features are more susceptible to manipulation, they provide the resources for expressivity. Segmental parameters cannot be so easily violated, though manipulating phonotactics remains fair game. Thus we see that there are constraints on violating constraints. (shrink)
Christiansen & Chater (C&C) argue persuasively that Universal Grammar (UG) could not have arisen through evolutionary processes. I provide additional suggestions to strengthen the argument against UG evolution. Further, I suggest that C&C's solution to the logical problem of language evolution faces several problems. Widening the focus to mechanisms of general cognition and inclusion of animal communication research might overcome these problems.
At the end of the seminar, I suggested that most researchers on language and its evolution (including Derek Bickerton I suspect, though I've only read snippets of his work), mistakenly ignore a host of other competences that are present in far more species.
(a) Learn a grammar GA for the source language (A). (b) Estimate a structural statistical language model SSLMA for (A). Given a grammar (consisting of terminals and nonterminals) and a partial sentence (sequence of terminals (t1 . . . ti)), an SSLM assigns probabilities to the possible choices of the next terminal ti+1.
Most commentators have underplayed the philosophical importance of Wittgenstein's multifarious remarks on music, which are scattered throughout his Nachlass. In this dissertation I spell out the extent and depth of Wittgenstein's engagement with certain problems that are regarded today as central to the field of the aesthetics of music, such as musical temporality, expression and understanding. By considering musical expression in its relation to aspect-perception, I argue that Wittgenstein understands music in terms of a highly evolved, vertically complex physiognomic (...) class='Hi'>language-game, in which fine shades of behavior are logically (semantically) connected with the musical experiences themselves. A musical passage conjoins the multifarious language games that are presupposed in it and the emerging gesture that ultimately insinuates itself into our life. Wittgenstein conceives music as a mode of expression, a path leading from the world of our thoughts and feelings, which in itself is not yet music, toward a gesture which is no longer music, but which belongs to the world of thoughts and feelings. A melody can be located at this crossroads of music, language and the world, and is understood in reciprocal action with language. Musical gesture insinuates itself into our life, for, like a human face, it speaks of and reflects our "knowledge of mankind," and it is ultimately understood only against the background of "the bustle of life," as Wittgenstein calls it. I also argue that Wittgenstein's discussion of musical understanding suggests an important model, albeit not an exclusive one, for understanding language. The musicality of language points first and foremost at the way we use words in the vertically complex language game of expression, and at the intransitive understanding that goes with it. Throughout the dissertation I address a number of unique topics that have rarely, if ever, been investigated in this context. These include inter alia Wittgenstein's 1912-1913 experiments on the perception of rhythm, Oswald Spengler's influence on Wittgenstein's remarks on music, Wittgenstein's reaction to Heinrich Schenker's view of music, and the complex, elusive relation between Wittgenstein's later philosophical views and Arnold Schoenberg's dodecaphonic music. (shrink)