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Croatian Journal of Philosophy

Volume 6, Issue 3, 2006
Philosophy of Linguistics

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articles
1. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Dunja Jutronić Introduction
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2. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Peter Ludlow The Myth of Human Language
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The author argues that the standard view about language, seen as fairly stable abstract system of communication, is a myth. Standard view is badly mistaken and the alternative picture is offered in which there is a core part of our linguistic competence that is fixed by biology and this provides a basic skeleton which is fleshed out in different ways on a conversion-by-conversation basis. Why certain people communicate with each other? The answer to this question is not because they speak the same language. We cannot see how communication can emerge from the standard picture of language if we do not start investigating the nature of our linguistic coordination strategies, since there is not a thing there -- a language -- that helps us to communicate.
3. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Alex Barber Testimony and Illusion
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This paper considers a form of scepticism according to which sentences, along with other linguistic entities such as verbs and phonemes, etc., are never realized. If, whenever a conversational participant produces some noise or other, they and all other participants assume that a specific sentence has been realized (or, more colloquially, spoken), communication will be fluent whether or not the shared assumption is correct. That communication takes place is therefore, one might think, no ground for assuming that sentences are realized during a typical conversation. I reject both this ‘folie-a-deux’ view and the arguments for it due to Georges Rey. I do so by drawing on Gilbert Harrnan’s no-false-lemmas principle. Since testimony is a form of knowledge and, according to the principle, knowledge cannot depend essentially on false assumptions, testimony is incompatible with the claim that sentence realization is but an illusion. Much of the paper is given over to defending this appeal to the no-false-lemmas principle. After all, a more attractive option might seem to be to infer instead that the principle is itself falsified by the folie-a-deux view.
4. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Barry C. Smith Why We Still Need Knowledge of Language
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In his latest book, Michael Devitt rejects Chomsky’s mentalist conception of linguistics. The case against Chomsky is based on two principal claims. First, that we can separate the study of linguistic competence from the study of its outputs: only the latter belongs to linguistic inquiry. Second, Chomsky’s account of a speaker’s competence as consisiting in the mental representation of rules of a grammar for his language is mistaken. I shall argue, first, that Devitt fails to make a case for separating the study of outputs from the study of competence, and second, that Devitt mis-characterises Chomsky’s account of competence, and so his objections miss their target. Chomsky’s own views come close to a denial that speaker’s have knowledge of their language. But a satisfactory account of what speakers are able to do will need to ascribe them linguistic knowledge that they use to speak and understand. I shall explore a conception of speaker’s knowledge of language that confirrns Chomsky’s mentalist view of linguistics but which is immune to Devitt’s criticism.
5. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Robert J. Matthews Could Competent Speakers Really Be Ignorant of Their Language?
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This paper defends the commonsense conception of linguistic competence according to which linguistic competence involves propositional knowledge of language. More specifically, the paper defends three propositions challenged by Devitt in his Ignorance af Language. First, Chomskian linguists were right to embrace this commonsense conception of linguistic cornpetence. Second, the grammars that these linguists propose make a substantive claim about the computational processes that are presumed to constitute a speaker’s linguistic competence. Third, Chomskian linguistics is indeed a subfield of psychology, in the business of characterizing the linguistic competence of speakers.
6. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
John Collins Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Dialogue on the Philosophy and Methodology of Generative Linguistics
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My contribution takes up a set of methodological and philosophical issues in linguistics that have recently occupied the work of Devitt and Rey. Devitt construes the theories of generative linguistics as being about an external linguistic reality of utterances, inscriptions, etc.; that is, Devitt rejects the ‘psychologistic’ construal of linguistics. On Rey’s conception, linguistics concerns the mental contents of speaker / hearers; there are no external linguistic items at all. I reject both views. Against Devitt, I argue that the philosophical issues in linguistics should be framed in terms of the theories themselves, not pre-theoretical conceptions front either philosophy or commonsense as to what linguistics is about or what a language is. In this light, I suggest that Devitt’s key arguments (concerning parameter setting, psychological reality, and the role of intuitions) do not make sense of current linguistic inquiry and so do not offer an adequate philosophical basis of that work. To this extent, I agree with Rey. Ourdifferences emerge over the putative role of content in linguistic inquiry and how the concept of computation ought to be understood. Following the lead of Chomsky’s recent philosophical remarks, I argue that a theory of the language faculty should be understood as an abstract specification of the function that pairs ‘sound’ with ‘meaning’ rather than as a specification of the content the mind represents. But doesn’t ‘computation’ presuppose ‘representation’? I argue for a negative answer, at least if ‘representation’ is read intentionally. A ‘representation’ can be construed as brain structure that, at the present stage of inquiry, can only be picked out via the abstract concepts of linguistic theory. We are entitled to posit such structures insofar as they earn their explanatory keep over the output of the faculty. The linguistic function is a way of setting the boundary conditions on what the brain must be doing such that humans get to be competent speaker / hearers, although we do not therefore take the function to be a story of the causal spring of linguistic performance.
7. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Gurpreet Rattan The Knowledge in Language
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Is knowledge of language a kind of knowledge-that or knowledge-how? Michael Devitt’s Ignorance of Language argues that knowledge of language is a kind of knowledge-how. Devitt’s account of knowledge of language is embedded in a more general account of the nature of language as grounded in thought. The paper argues that Devitt’s view is inconsistent when thought is understood in an externalist or anti-individualist way. A key phenomenon in externalist thought experiments is the possibility of incomplete or mistaken understanding, and its correction. This phenomenon is exhibited in our knowledge of language. Expanding on some brief remarks by Chomsky, it is argued that speakers display incomplete understanding in making mistakes in linguistic judgrnents. These mistakes can be irnproved through reflection on cases. In this process of mistake, reflection, and correction, speakers’ knowledge of language remains stable despite the change in linguistic judgments. This stable knowledge of language cannot be understood as kind of knowledge-how, without making the rational efficacy of reflection a constitutive feature of knowledge-how. But to do this is to obliterate the distinction between knowledge-how and knowledge-that. The conclusion is that if externalism about thought is accepted, then the knowledge in language is a kind of knowledge-that.
8. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Nenad Miščević Intuitions: The Discrete Voice of Competence
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In Devitt’s view, linguistic intuitions are opinions about linguistic production of products, most often one’s own. They result frorn ordinary empirical investigation, so “they are immediate and fairly unreflectiveernpirical central-processor responses to linguistic phenomena”, which reactions are, moreover, theory-laden, where the ‘theory’ encompasses all sorts of speaker’s beliefs. The paper reconstructs his arguments, places his view on a map of alternative approaches to intuitions, and offers a defense of a minimalistic “voice-of-competence” view. First, intuitions are to be identified with the data, the minimal “products” of tentative linguistic production of naïve speaker-listeners, and not with their opinions about the data. Second, the data involve no theory and very little prototheory. Third, although there might be admixtures of guesswork in the conscious production of data, these are routinely weaned out by linguists. Finally, mere acceptance of the “voice of competence” does not land us in any objectionable Cartesianism: it is cornpatible with naturalism and with distrust of a priori philosophy.
9. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Georges Rey Conventions, Intuitions and Linguistic Inexistents: A Reply to Devitt
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Elsewhere I have argued that standard theories of linguistic competence are committed to taking seriously talk of “representations of” standard linguistic entities (“SLEs”), such as NPs, VPs, morphemes, phonemes, syntactic and phonetic features. However, it is very doubtful there are tokens of these “things” in space and time. Moreover, even if were, their existence would be completely inessential to the needs of either communication or serious linguistic theory. Their existence is an illusion: an extremely stable perceptual state we regularly enter as a result of being stimulated by the wave forms we regularly produce when we execute our intentions to utter such tokens (a view I call “Folieism”). In his Ignorance of Language, Michael Devitt objects to this view, arguing that, “On Rey’s view, communication seems to rest on miraculous guesses.” I argue here that my view is not prey to his objections, and actually affords a scientifically more plausible view than his “empiricist” alternative. Specifically, I reply to his objections that my view couldn’t explain the conventionality of language and success of communication (§2.1), that I am faced with intractable difficulties surrounding the identity of intentional inexistents (§2.2), and that, contrary to my view, SLEs can be relationally defined (§2.3). Not only can Folieism survive Devitt’s objections, but (§3) it also provides a more satisfactory account of the role of linguistic intuitions than the “empirical” account on which he insists.
10. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Michael Devitt Defending Ignorance of Language: Responses to the Dubrovnik Papers
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book reviews
11. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Dunja Jutronić The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky
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12. Croatian Journal of Philosophy: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Maja Malec Modality and Tense: Philosophical Papers
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