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The Origins of Language Jordan Zlatev

The Origins of Language Jordan Zlatev

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The Origins of Language Jordan Zlatev

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  1. Lecture 2 What is language? The Origins of LanguageJordan Zlatev

  2. Exercise 1 • Discuss in groups: • How would you define the term ”language”? (you may distinguish different senses) • How would you distinguish language from other forms of communication?

  3. What is language? • The more conceptual (philosophical) question: What do we mean by “language”? Different senses… • The more empirical question: How do systems of communication differ, and which set of “features” corresponds best to our concept of language. • The two are closely related!

  4. The conceptual-empirical loop

  5. Senses of ‘language’ • A particular public language:“The French language” (≈ ‘langue’) • Communication by means of language:“His language was fluent”, speech. (≈ ‘parole’) • In linguistics: Knowledge of (1), permitting (2): “language as a cognitive phenomenon”(≈ ‘competence’) • In cognitive science: The biological basis for (3): “languagein the brain” • In linguistics/philosophy: The capacity for language:“Homo sapiens alone possesses language”.

  6. Extended (non-literal) senses • Communicative signals: “the language of birds” • Any expressive medium: “the language of art”, “body language” • Style of speaking: “flowery language” • In computer science: “PROLOG is an easy programming language” • A people or nation:“The French are famous for the food” (The name for a people is almost always the name given to their language, by “outsiders”)

  7. The conceptual-empirical loop

  8. Characteristic features of language(Zlatev, Persson and Gärdenfors2005)

  9. Distinctions listed by Burling (2005) • Heredity vs. learning (> 1) • Automatic vs. voluntary (> 2) • Hear-and-now vs. “displacement” (> 3, 4) • Formulaic vs. “productive” (> 3, 4, 6) • Emotional vs. propositional content (> 1, 2, 5, 6) • Analog vs. digital signals (> 6) • Few (discrete) vs. “massive vocabulary” (> 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6) • visible AND audible medium (unlike Hockett 1960: “design features of language”)

  10. Not a binary distinction: ”animal communication” vs. ”language” Burling (2005) “The Talking Ape”, p. 46

  11. Much more doubtful • “duality of patterning” (“double articulation”) – “Our huge stock of words would not be possible without the digital phonological code” (: 33), but signed languages? • “arbitrariness” – 50% of the signs (words) of ASL are iconic, i.e. they resemble their meanings • “recursive rules” – not the same as hierarchical structure, a mathematical operation e.g. S -> NP VP, NP -> NP Comp S

  12. Looking for the essence of language in single (formal) property: “recursion” (Hauser, Chomsky, Fitch 2002)

  13. The conceptual-empirical loop

  14. A possible definition Language: A (mostly) conventional (normative) semiotic system for communication and thought (Zlatev 2007, 2008)

  15. But what is meant by: • ”conventions” and ”norms” • ”semiotic systems” • ”communication” • ”thought”

  16. “Conventions and norms” • “A regularity R in the behaviour of members of a population P … is a convention if and only it is true that, and it is common knowledge in P that, … (1) everyone conforms to R; (2) everyone expects everyone else to conform to R; ...” (Lewis 1969: 76) • Conventions are not just habits(regularities). • The expectation that everyone (should) ”conform to” them implies a normative aspect.

  17. Conventions of language John loves Mary. *Loves John Mary. En hund, *etthund Adog is an animal. *Adog is a number. • The judgement that some expressions are correct (either grammatically or semantically), while others are not correct, is a pre-theoretical universal. (Itkonen 1978, …. 2008) • Itkonen’s insistence on the (implicitly) normative character of languageis correct (Zlatev 2007, 2008), cf. Coseriu (1974, 1985)

  18. “Semiotics” • All conventions (e.g. to drive on the right side of the road) are not signs. • All signs are not conventional (e.g. most gestures – unlike signed language – most pictures, etc.) • But what is a ”sign”?

  19. Signification (sign use) A sign is used if and only if E (expression) signifies C (content) or at least R (referent), for subject S, so that: • E and C/R are connected: in perceiving or enacting E, S indirectly perceives, or conceives of C/R • E and C/R are differentiated: E is qualitatively different from C/R for S • The relation is asymmetrical (E  C/R, not C/R  E)

  20. Signals, signs and systems • All signals are not signs(e.g. spontaeous face expressions, bodily postures). • Some signs are not mostly conventional (e.g. pictures). • Some conventional signs are not organized in systems: emblematic (”quotable”) gestures. • Laguages are (mostly) conventional sign systems.

  21. Signals, signs and systems

  22. “Communication” • Dance and Larson (1976, Appendix A) list 126 different definitions. • Differ in at least: • Degree of generality? • Imply or not intentionality/purposefulness? • Imply or not success? (Dance 1970; Littlejohn 1999)

  23. “Communication” • “Communication is the process that links discontinuous part of the living world to one another.” (Ruesch 1956: 462) too general • “Those situations in which a source transmits a message to a receiver with conscious intent to affect the latter’s behaviors.” (Miller 1966: 92) too specific: “conscious intent” • “It is the process that makes common to two or several what was the monopoly of one.” (Gode 1959: 5) too general + “success” • “Communication is the verbal interchange of a thought or idea.” (Hoben 1954: 77) too specific: “verbal”, “success” • “Communication is the transmission of information.” (Berelson and Steiner 1964: 254) too general: “information”

  24. ”Communication” (Zlatev 2009) • Communication is the transmission of meanings through different (bodily) expressions between two or more subjects. • Generality: intermediate • Intentionality: non-committed • Success: uses the (often criticized) notion of “transmission”, but does not (a) focus solely on the “sender”, but on both parties and (b) require in all cases for the sender’s meaning to be identical with the that of the receiver: individual interpretation and collective negotiation

  25. 4 levels of communication(Zlatev 2009)

  26. Level 1: Bodily reactions (such as piloerection)

  27. Level 2: (Ritualized) intention movements

  28. Level 3: Communicative signs

  29. Level 4: Conventional sign systems

  30. “Thought”: Mediated cognition • Non-mediated cognition: perception, procedural memory, anticipation... • Non-verbal thought: Cognition mediated by non-linguistic signs: thinking in images, analogy-making... • Verbal thought: Cognition mediated through language:internal speech, complex planing, narratives,autobiographic self...

  31. Some conclusions • Since conventions are by definition social, it follows that languages are necessarily social phenomena. • Since signs require a subject, i.e. consciousness, languages are also necessarily mental phenomena. • Since consciousness (appears to) require a certain kind of (neuro)biology, languages are also biological phenomena.

  32. Popper’s “Three Worlds” “The three worlds are: the physicalworld1 of bodies and physical states, events and forces; the psychological world2of experiences and of unconscious mental events, and the world 3 of mental products.” (Popper 1992, p.9)

  33. Popper’s “Three Worlds” “The order of world 1, 2 and 3 (as indicated by these numbers) correspond to their age. According to the current state of our conjectural knowledge, the inanimate part of world 1 is by far the oldest; then comes the animate part of world 1, and at the same time or somewhat later comes world 2, the world of experiences; and then with the advent of mankind comes world 3, the world of mental products; that is the world that anthropologists call ‘culture’” (Popper 1992, p.9)

  34. Some more conclusions • Language interacts with other types of signals during communication (e.g. affective prosodi, iconic gestures) • ... But this does not give us sufficient ground to regard these as part of language, in a more narrow sense.

  35. The conceptual-empirical loop

  36. Exercise 2: Observe the video-clip • Try to classify the child’s communicative signals using the 4 level taxonomy: • Bodily reactions + cries • Intention movements • Non-linguistic signs • Language • Say STOP when you wish to “tag” a particular act.