Language and Human Understanding

Language and Human Understanding

David Braine
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 808
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  • Book Info
    Language and Human Understanding
    Book Description:

    Philosopher, psychologist and linguist are all concerned with natural language. Accordingly, in seeking a unified view, Braine draws on insights from all these fields, sifting through the discordant schools of linguists. He concludes that one extended logic or “integrated semantic syntax” shapes grammar, but without constricting languages to being of one grammatical type.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2175-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  4. Introduction and Overview
    (pp. 1-68)

    A right account of language is, I believe, the key to a right account of the nature of human understanding and thought, and thereby the key to a right understanding of human nature as a whole. Yet the whole theory of language is in considerable disorder, and my aim must therefore be first to seek to remedy this. This will take me into the heart of current debates in linguistics, philosophy, and psychology, and lead me to undertake an extended study of grammar. The effect will be to show how language exhibits the ultimate freedom of the human intellect and...

  5. PART ONE. Words and Their Dynamism in the Expression of Meaning
      (pp. 71-112)

      In the introduction and overview I gave a key place to our capacity to use a word in a multiplicity of different senses or discourse-significances, even though it was being taken in the same meaning at the level of language-possession. It is the task of this chapter to develop these ideas merely sketched earlier.

      The primary hallmark of human nature and of the peculiarly human kind of understanding lies not in reasoning from one thought to another, but in the character of the thinking enshrined in the individual thoughts between which reasoning is made, such as is exhibited in speech....

    • II The Salience of Words and Our Adventurousness in Using Them
      (pp. 113-157)

      Units of different “rank”, in the way that “narrative”, “argument”, “conversation”, and “exchange” signify units of discourse of higher rank than “sentence” and “utterance”, need to be distinguished in analyzingparole. Below the sentence, common idiom reckons the “subsentential clause”, the “phrase”, and the “word” as entering into speech as significant constituents of three successively lower ranks, while such word-formatives or “morphemes” as “cow-” and “-s” in the word “cows” and “kick-” and “-ed” in the word “kicked”, or, in a different way, the “un-” with “-accept-” and “-able” in the word “unacceptable”, are constituents of lower rank. (Phonological and...

    • III Sentences, Sense, and the Objects of Linguistic Science
      (pp. 158-218)

      This chapter draws out the consequences of recognizing that the primary place of the concepts of sense and sentence in linguistic science is at the level of speech and the speech-act.

      This is required for the application of logic and by the functional connection of language with communication. It accords with the speech-related approaches of earlier linguists described in section 4, by contrast with Chomsky’s novel conceptions, which I show to be both inappropriate to grammar and unhelpful to psychology.

      My proposal is also at odds with the artificial restriction whereby semantics draws on the context of utterance only so...

    • IV The Indivisibility of the Human Capacity for Language
      (pp. 219-242)

      The conception of a whole with an essential, not merely accidental, unity was first made explicit by Aristotle in his treatment of the relationships of the whole animal to its matter or material parts¹ and of the spoken syllable to its phonetic elements.² By an essential unity or whole is meant a whole in which the nature and behavior of the parts cannot be understood except by reference to the nature and behavior of the whole, and at the same time the nature and behavior of the whole cannot be understood except with reference to the nature and behavior of...

    • V Scientific Method and the Significance of Mathematics for Linguistics
      (pp. 243-292)

      This chapter shows the indispensability of informal rules to mathematical practice and scientific method and development. The requirement of conformity to mechanically applicable rules arises only in certain specialized contexts. The deceptive plausibility of arguments that such mechanically applicable rules are necessary leads us into a trap, “up the garden path” as it were; this chapter shows the pits, dumps, and general chaos at the end of this garden path.

      For many modern philosophers and psycholinguists it is the received “common sense” that in order to know the sense of an utterance, we need first to identify the words and...

  6. PART TWO. The Shape of the Psychology Required for Explaining the Learning and Use of Language
    • VI Human and Animal Organisms as Systems Dynamically Geared to the Environment
      (pp. 295-345)

      The holistic approach of J. J. Gibson and some other recent psychologists is key to understanding the shape of the psychology required for explaining the learning and use of language, including the part played by the brain and by our human evolutionary background.

      Gibson’s environment-geared or “ecological” model of visual perception makes the cognitive aspect of perception inseparable from the gearing of our motor activity to the natural environment, a model intelligible only in the context of an Aristotelian conception of human unity and function. Gibson’s way of thinking about perception provides a model for how we should think about...

    • VII Extending the Dynamic and Environment-Geared Model of Human Functioning to the Psychology of Language
      (pp. 346-365)

      In psychology it has become the norm to presume the existence of mechanisms with various roles in advance of any definite knowledge of how they may be physically realized, often referring to them as “modules”.

      The word “module” was first used to refer to standardized production units of components in electrical design and architecture and then, with rather different connotations, to refer to separable sections of spacecraft such as can operate as independent units. Derivatively, it came to refer to distinct, well-defined units from which a computer program may be built up or into which a complex process or activity...

    • VIII Understanding as Essential to Explaining Speech: RESISTING THE DRAG TOWARDS PHYSICALISM
      (pp. 366-396)

      In chapters I to III we registered how linguistic understanding of the lexical orlangue-meanings of lexical factors grounds the linguistic understanding of their sense or discourse-significance as used in utterances in particular contexts, so that linguistic understanding at two levels is always essential to linguistic communication. These two kinds of linguistic understanding are not theoretical entities in the way quarks are theoretical entities, mere postulates in the explanation of phenomena, but are both things of which we are aware in the act of using language and also as entering into the explanation of linguistic phenomena.

      We know that we...

  7. PART THREE. Rewriting the Philosophy of Grammar and Restoring Unity to the Theory of Language
      (pp. 399-445)

      In considering the sentence’s semantic constituents and understanding how they are interlinked and integrated together, we must proceed in the way outlined in the introduction, taking semantics and pragmatics to shape syntactic structure and taking grammars as concerned with sentences as utterances, not as the “context-free” constructs of a grammatical theory. My studies in part three will suggest that the problems which confront grammatical theory present no obstacle to this approach. To be concerned with certain aspects of utterances is still to be concerned with utterances (as well as thereby also with clauses as having the potentiality to be utterances)....

    • X The Gulf between Saying and Naming, the Verbal and the Nominal: “FORCE”-POTENTIAL AS INTEGRAL TO “SENSE”
      (pp. 446-486)

      On the face of it every complete “speech”-sentence—that is, something whose identity includes its sense and therefore includes everything relevant to sense arising from its context of utterance—is coordinate to an act of utterance or linguistic deliverance—“cognate” to the speech-act in the sense I explain in chapter XII.¹

      As a result, of its very nature, every such sentence has “force”, an idea Frege expressed by the word Kraft in his article “Negation”.² It carries its force as part of its sense or “discourse-significance” (shown precisely in its situation in utterance), force being possessed only by complete speech-units—...

    • XI The Notion of Subject and the Functional Organization of the Clause
      (pp. 487-527)

      We have seen that it is wrong to confine “sense” and semantics to the lexical, and wrong to confine it to what is relevant to a “logic” of matters affecting truth-conditions. Rather all the distinctions presented in Dik’s Functional Grammar and the Czech tradition, between Theme, Predication and Tail, Topic and Focus, Given Topic and New Topic, and so forth, reflect perspective and belong to the semantics of discourse, as I use the term “semantics”.¹

      Jackendoff observes in a footnote, “Another possibility, however, is that subject-predicate structure arose from Topic-Comment organization in information structure. It subsequently became grammaticalized and overlaid...

    • XII Marrying Philosophy and Grammar in Distinguishing Types of Noun Expression
      (pp. 528-574)

      In chapter IX we saw that in any semantically structured expressive speech, the subordinate sentence constituents must be of different kinds. The distinction between referring or “naming” expressions and saying or “verbal” expressions, the latter “incomplete” or “unsaturated”, was fundamental, because of the overarching functional role of the latter. We also picked out what we called “application controllers” (typically quantifiers), and, within verbal expressions or predicates, we indicated the need to pick out certain key lexical elements as “content-introducing”. The capacity to make such logic-inspired distinctions is what enables us to penetrate the grammar of the language.

      However, much more...

    • XIII Varied Systems of Grammaticalization—Reviewing the Phenomena
      (pp. 575-642)

      Semantic syntactic structure is set by the verb, by functional or “pragmatic” roles in discourse, and by the “thematic” roles of different arguments within the verbal framework.

      Grammar studies the ways in which this structure takes morphosyntactic form and becomes grammatically explicit by such devices as connectives, inflections, and conventions of word order in the process of “grammaticalization”, the particular arguments of verbs thereby assuming various grammatical “functions” in the way seen in chapter XI.

      The “thematic roles” of things referred to by the different noun-phrase arguments of a verb are distinguished according to their different participatory roles in the...

    • XIV The Verb Gives Sentences Their Dynamic Character and Shapes Their Syntactic Structure
      (pp. 643-704)

      In this chapter and the next I show how, in grammar, sentence and clause theory shape phrase theory, rather than vice versa. In giving primacy to the sentence and clause, I recognize speech as shaping grammatical form.

      By contrast, in the Chomskyan approach sentences are composed stage by stage from words or other basic lexical factors, and sentence structure is represented compositionally in a bottom-up fashion. Thereby the representation of clause structure is modeled upon that of phrase structure. In the “Principles and Parameters” presentation Chomsky came to treat functional elements and features, such as tense, modality, negation, and “agreement”...

    • XV The Distorted Treatment of Phrase Theory in Modern Formal Grammar
      (pp. 705-744)

      In Chapter XIV we saw how discourse and sentence structure shape phrase structure, rather than phrase structure shaping sentence structure.

      By contrast, in Chomsky’s minimalist approach, beginning with morphemes, in successive stages, ever larger phrasal groups are formed until sentential “phrases” are reached. In this bottom-up approach the properties of each lexical item as set within the lexicon determine the ways it can be joined (“Merge”) with other items to form the successive complexes and determine how these can themselves be joined. At various stages in this process certain restricted kinds of “Movement” (“transformations”) can occur.

      Chomsky has provided successively...

  8. General Conclusion
    (pp. 745-754)

    We saw how language presents itself to us primarily in the activity of speech. Here, from the first acts of understanding speech, our own and that of others, we begin to learn the language spoken—for instance, to learn the meaning and use of particular words. Both language at the level of what is learned, langue, and language at the level of use, “speech”, are public things appreciated by a community of people using the same language. Thus speech and langue are both by nature public and shared.

    What belongs to the individual is the understanding of speech and knowledge...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 755-776)
  10. Index of Names
    (pp. 777-782)
  11. Subject Index
    (pp. 783-797)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 798-798)