Our Knowledge of the Internal World (Lines of Thought)

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Those we're willing to talk to--spouses, relatives, close friends--often lack the expertise or patience to realistically assess our thoughts. Indeed, friends and spouses may simply not be able to cope with especially disturbing thoughts. Generally, says Silver, research has shown that the more horrific and socially stigmatized the thought, the smaller the willing audience, and the more often the individual experiences the unwanted thoughts.

The only place left to turn is the counselor, minister, or other trained listener--an option with its own social stigma attached. The more daunting hurdle, however, may be finding new, more realistic mental "rules" to replace those that helped generate the forbidden thoughts. To be sure, rules against thoughts of, say, murder or child abuse still apply.

But what about thoughts like divorce? You may have been raised in, and internalized the rules of, a culture where the "D-word" was never even spoken aloud. To even think of divorce was to admit your marriage was imperfect, that you were already planning to leave.

Our Knowledge of the Internal World

Today the "rules" for thinking about divorce are vastly different. While the consequences of failed marriages remain clear, so do the dangers of staying married at all costs. Divorce is simultaneously stigmatized and regarded as a thinkable, potentially healthy option. The point, psychologists say, is that while a too-rigid value system can create vulnerabilities to forbidden thoughts, so, too, can a value system that is ill-defined or in a state of flux. This is especially evident in individuals who have begun to question their religious beliefs, to rebel against the authority of a parent or spouse, to resist the cultural attitudes they grew up with, or even to shuck off an old, unwanted self-image.

Whatever the objective, many such individuals are, in essence, seeking to let themselves have thoughts that were once forbidden.

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Not surprisingly, many of the popular new spiritual and self-help movements specifically encourage their adherents to avoid the terms "should" and "should not" in the context of thoughts and actions. Such efforts may ultimately be wholesome and liberating. But they may also profoundly contradict many traditional teachings and attitudes, and could magnify confusion--and vulnerability--in persons whose past attitudes maintain a powerful, if unwanted, pull.

They may find that the thoughts they want to have--about racial equality, for example--are at some level still "forbidden" by past experience and attitudes. At the same time, thoughts that were appropriate and encouraged under that previous world views--judging others via stereotype, for example--are now inappropriate, and thus also "forbidden. In a sense, even before an individual has vanquished one set of forbidden thoughts, he or she may be busily creating a new one. Basically you know what you're trying to leave behind, but you haven't yet figured out what you're going into.

And, in reality, few people are torn between just two belief systems. Western culture, especially American culture, is a rich stew of competing value systems, distinct subcultures, and often radically different notions of "inappropriate" thoughts. What is correct thinking in one subculture may be intolerable in another, causing confusion for people moving between the two. A woman raised in a conservative rural community, for example, may have learned to "forbid" herself from desiring a professional career or equality with men.

Yet if this same women moves to an urban, liberal environment where such thoughts are encouraged, she may nonetheless find it difficult to have such "liberal" thoughts without guilt or self-doubt. Indeed, cultural politics are rife with forbidden thoughts. Many liberal doctrines criticize traditional religion as "thought control," yet themselves set aside whole new categories of thought as "politically incorrect.

Or consider the conflicts of an avowed feminist woman who finds herself fantasizing pleasurably about staying home with the kids. Or about being sexually dominated! No category of thought may be as filled with contradictions, and so difficult to judge, as sexuality. We're bombarded daily with provocative images, stern warnings, new and often contradictory theories based as much on politics as science. We're told that sexual feelings are good, but that sexual feelings can get out of control. We're told the reason pornography is titillating is because our culture "forbids" sexuality, but that watching pornography corrupts our minds.

We're told that lust is normal Jimmy Carter admitted to it , but also that lust is a bad habit. That homosexuality is genetic, but also a chosen lifestyle and a sin. That adultery is fatal, but also a common, survivable social phenomenon. Fluid societal boundaries not only make us vulnerable to forbidden thoughts, they simultaneously deny us the tools we need to cope with the unwanted intrusions.

The only way to make sense of the chaos, some psychologists say, is not to blindly rely on culture to supply our mental standards. We must be willing to take matters into our own hands. That may mean seeking professional help, especially if we feel a thought is in danger of breaking out. A good rule of thumb: If a thought is causing pain, or interfering with your life, it's probably time to talk to someone. In severe cases, where an individual is paralyzed by his or her reaction to forbidden thoughts, drugs or intensive therapy may be needed.

In less serious instances, however, treatment centers on helping people to recreate or recover a healthier, more realistic perspective on their thoughts. And while these treatments are often conducted in the controlled environment of a therapist's office, psychologists say, they may also be effectively applied in everyday situations.

Some therapists, for example, give their clients "permission" to think the forbidden thought for a specified period of time each day, which, in less severe cases, allows our normal mental processes to wash away the anxiety associated with it. Others recommend what might be called the Big Picture approach.

Do they tend to live by basic principles? Do they tend to treat people in a fair way? Generally, psychologists say, patients are helped to understand that life's stresses can produce impulsive, unwanted, but not necessarily deadly, thoughts. Work is a common source of forbidden thoughts.

But family situations are probably the most fertile. This is particularly true in marriage or live-in relationships, where the work and stress of keeping a relationship together, raising children, managing money, keeping house, and coping with in-laws can occasionally give rise to less-than-savory thoughts about one's spouse. The key is to consistently strive for a sense of perspective and realism. As Neil Jacobson, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, puts it: "The fact is that to be married to someone is to sometimes think he is an asshole. Whether we go it alone or seek counseling , psychologists say, confronting our forbidden thoughts ultimately requires courage.

Courage to create, and live by, our own rules. Courage to face our own worst fears, and to question our own self-prohibitions with the same intensity and passion with which we question society's rules. But it is also the courage simply to believe in ourselves. Forbidden thoughts may prevent us from committing heinous crimes and other regrettable acts. They may help us to survive as participants in an intricate social dance. But they can also serve as a means of undermining ourselves, of seeing ourselves in a primarily negative light.

In the end, the most damaging "forbidden" thought, the one we have been trained to block at every turn, may simply be that we are really okay.

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Back Psychology Today. Back Find a Therapist. Back Get Help. Back Magazine. In other words, justifying functional attributions in the case of human-made objects is, all things being equal, simple — its function is what its designer intended it to be used for. In the case of biological entities, however, justifying functional attributions is much more complex.

This account utilises functional analysis as its explanatory strategy, where the operation of systems is explained by the operation of their constituent parts. The same is true in biology where explanations of organisms are given in terms of constituent systems, for example, the immune system, which in turn is analysed into constituent organs and structures. This strategy can be pursued until pure physiology takes over Cummins Under this explanatory strategy — sometimes called the analytical strategy — a function is defined in terms of an exercise of an analysed capacity within a particular explanatory theory.

This function, however, only makes sense as a concept within an explanatory theory that appeals to some specific effects and disregards others.

Lines of Thought: Understanding Anatomy

However, relative to a system of medical diagnosis, the function of the heart may be to make thumping noises. This is as it should be, for nothing in biology has a function in an objective or abstract sense. Biological entities have any number of functions that are inherent in their internal structure — they can be used for anything for which their structure allows. Talk of functions is only appropriate relative to a certain explanatory theory. I want to suggest that the same is true in the case of language. Analogously, the language faculty has an effect — that of allowing us to communicate — but the question is what explanatory role, if any, this function plays within the theory.

How does the claim that the function of language is communication fit in with an explanatory theory of language? Moreover, since the notion of function makes the best sense within a systematic account of functional attribution, a good way to decipher the function of language is to look at its underlying mechanisms, to look at the way they are structured and the way in which they operate. My claim is that the nature of the underlying mechanisms of language indicates that its primary function is that of an instrument of thought.

Let us first be clear about what is meant when it is claimed that the function of language is primarily to support communication. Communication is usually understood as involving a transfer of information, though a communicative act involves much more or much less; often a communicative act will involve no transfer of information or propositional content, when, say, social grooming is involved or formalities are exchanged. Communication is standardly construed in two ways: the encoding-decoding model, and the inferential model.

The encoding-decoding model, also known as the message model Akmajian et al. This is the common-sense and folk psychological notion of language where language is used as a conduit for ideas Reddy An analysis of metaphorical expressions used in English, for example, shows that English speakers conceptualise the way they communicate in terms of the conduit metaphor Vanparys ; Semino This is of course not only a folk psychological concept, but one also taken seriously by many linguists and philosophers.

There are, however, problems with the message model of communication. It cannot adequately account for the way in which we successfully and predictively disambiguate utterances. It also cannot deal with cases of non-literal uses of language, in which the hearer does not decode but rather infer the meaning of an utterance by using various cues, only one of which is the literal meaning of the utterance. There is also the problem of the reference of utterances: how does the hearer know what the speaker is referring to when they produce utterances such as this happy child?

Does the message that is supposed to be decoded by the hearer contain the information required to determine the reference of the utterance? One could answer this question by proposing some form of referential semantics; however, a better answer seems to be that the hearer infers the reference of the utterance by making use of several types of evidence, including but not limited to the literal meaning of the utterance.

Despite these problems, though, the message model of communication was the basis for most explanations of communication well into the late twentieth century cf. But it is now clear that the message model must be supplemented by other principles if one is to have a satisfactory explanation of the complex nature of human communication. This is where the inferential model, originally developed by Grice ; , comes in. According to the inferential model, communication involves the hearer identifying the intention of the speaker. In producing an utterance, a speaker communicates by giving evidence of what they intend to communicate.

The hearer then uses this evidence, only part of which is the linguistic meaning of the utterance, in order to infer the message that the speaker intended to communicate. This larger set includes a set of shared beliefs and presumptions that speakers and hearers have of each other. It should be noted, however, that even though communication has been standardly construed in these two ways, they are not mutually exclusive; some combination of the two is taken for granted in current theorising about human communication. As already mentioned, in much of the theoretical and empirical work into language it is assumed that the function of language is communication.

Often this is the starting point of the discussion; it is an unquestioned working assumption that is not thought to be problematic. I think that the main argument that attempts to ground the claim that language is for communication is the constellation of related evolutionary arguments according to which the adaptive value of language use is its communicative function: language fitness is said to correspond to communicative success.

Since the most popular way in which to ground functional attributions in general has been via evolutionary considerations, it is no surprise that arguments in favour of the function of language being communication also take this route. Since natural selection is the best scientific explanation for the emergence of complex structures in organisms, they naturally use evolutionary considerations to ground their claim that the function of language is communication. They do so by arguing that there was a selective advantage in human evolutionary history for using language for communication, and so its primary function must therefore be communication.

However, I think that there are two issues here that need to be kept separate: the reasons for why a certain structure remains in the species are not necessarily the same as the reasons that make that structure what it is. In other words, suppose that we are studying an organism with structure S. We can study the internal structure of S and how that organism uses S in its current environment. But such a study is separate to the further question of why S has remained in the species to which that organism belongs.

For example, there could have been a change in the environment that made S useful for survival and thus it remained in the species. Or S could be part of a larger set of structures or mechanisms that together — but not individually — served a useful evolutionary purpose. Or S could have remained in the species for internal biological reasons that had little to do with their interaction with the environment or with natural selection.

We can imagine several other scenarios according to which S may or may not be useful to the organism in its particular environment. Now, such empirical questions are valid and interesting and by no means trivial, but they are different to the question of what S is.

1 Introduction

To take a concrete example, knowing the biology of the mammalian lungs tells us very little about why they remained in the species in their current form. It is only by looking at the relation between the environment and the internal biology that we can figure out why the lungs are the way they are. Conversely, knowing that mammalian lungs remained in the species because their function was to facilitate breathing and thus keep humans alive tells us little about the structure of the lungs.

We want to know how they achieve this for there is more than one way. Being told that the lungs facilitate breathing given the current state of our environment sets up the problem to be solved for biology. Again, the two questions are both valid and interesting, and both can be pursued in parallel and illuminate one another, but they are separate questions.

I think the same is true of generative linguistics and evolutionary theory. The latter argues that the language faculty remained in the species due to its selective advantage in fostering better communication and co-operation, 5 but this tells us little about the structure of the faculty itself. In fact, as I argue below, looking at the structure of the language faculty suggests that communication is a secondary aspect of language use.


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Another way to put the matter is that it is near impossible to derive the properties of the underlying computational mechanisms of language from functional accounts of language use. This is because communicative systems are consistent with more than one sort of language faculty, but the question for the biolinguist is why we have this particular language faculty and not some other Reinhart The upshot of the above is that, as per the analytical strategy detailed above, functional attributions only make sense within an explanatory theory that makes use of such attributions in its explanations.

Generative linguistics and evolutionary theory are different theories giving different explanations of different phenomena. Functions are not essential properties of organs or of biological mechanisms, they are attributed in a way that best fits the explanatory purpose at hand. It should be stressed that this is not the case for man-made objects, where the function is defined by reference to the intentions of the designer.

You can use a bread knife in any way you like as a paperweight, as a shoehorn, or as a murder weapon but there is no sense in which its main function and the reason for its existence is not for cutting bread. This is merely a definitional matter established by reference to the intentions of the designer of the object in question. The object would not exist if it were not designed and constructed with a specific function in mind. But in regard to biological entities, like the language faculty in the mind, this pre-theoretical intuition does not help us. There is no analogue in the biological realm to a designer of a man-made object: natural selection is both blind and without foresight.

In other words, man-made objects have their functions essentially, whereas biological entities have their functions ascribed to suit the explanatory purposes at hand. Thus, I argue below that the functional attribution that best fits the explanatory purposes of generative linguistics is that of language being an instrument of thought, and this linguistic theory is unswayed by the claim that within evolutionary theory the function of language is communication.

I should note here that I do not wish to rehearse or to adjudicate on the debate in regard to the evolution of language. Rather, I wish to point to what the motivations may be for making the claim that the function of language is communication. It seems to me that the main motivation perhaps the only fully articulated one for making this claim is that since there was a selective advantage in human evolutionary history for using language for communication, its primary function must therefore be communication.

Of course, merely pointing to the fact that, as opposed to evolutionary theory, the functional attribution that best fits the explanatory purposes of generative linguistics is that of language being an instrument of thought does not mean that this attribution is correct or even helpful in improving linguistics as a scientifically fecund explanatory theory.

The question that must be faced is what explanatory scope does arguing that language is an instrument of thought buy us. To this end we now turn. My claim is that the underlying mechanisms of language do not merely express pre-formed thoughts but rather that they also allow humans to think particular types of thoughts that are unavailable to beings who do not have these mechanisms. This is the strong claim in regard to language being an instrument of thought.

This is of course not to deny that animals can think without language, and this should not be taken to imply that all thought is due to the underlying mechanisms of language. As mentioned above, animal cognition is impressive indeed but it is missing a specific kind of thinking that appears to be unique to humans. In order to fully understand the nature of these uniquely human thoughts, let us see what productivity and systematicity consist in. Linguistic productivity is part of what is known as the creative aspect of language use Asoulin It is the ability to produce and understand an unlimited number of sentences.

This feature of language was noticed by Descartes, who viewed productivity in all domains — language, mathematics, vision, etc. In order for the underlying mechanisms of language to be able to produce from the set of finite primitive elements an infinite set of expressions they must allow for recursion. For present purposes assume that recursion involves embedding a structural object within another instance of itself — as when a noun phrase is embedded within another noun phrase cf. Parker ; Tomalin ; Zwart Notice that an iterative procedure can of course also produce infinite expressions from a finite set, but iteration is not the same as recursion.

While the two procedures are similar in that both can yield structural repetition and thus a potential infinite set, they differ in the way in which they do this and thus in the sorts of expressions they can produce. A procedure is recursive if it builds structures by increasing embedding depth, whereas an iterative procedure can only yield flat structures that have no depth of this kind cf. Karlsson Recursive procedures can therefore produce linguistic expressions that are, say, centre-embedded, and that lead to long-distance dependencies. Iterative procedures, on the other hand, cannot produce such expressions.

In other words, the indefinite repetition or concatenation of elements iteration is not the same as the indefinite embedding of elements within other elements of the same type recursion. Productivity, then, helps explain how we can deal with novel linguistic contexts and how we can produce and understand sentences that we have not previously encountered.

Linguistic systematicity, on the other hand, refers to the fact that our ability to produce and comprehend expressions of a certain kind guarantees that we can produce or comprehend other systematically related expressions. What accounts for this systematicity are our abstract linguistic structures, or, more specifically, our ability to construct structural representations of sentences — looking at the syntax, we have here the abstract syntactic structure [NP [V NP]]. Such abstract structures explain the systematic relation between expressions.

Thus, productivity and systematicity are perhaps the best indicators of the creative and open-ended nature of human language. As Fodor famously argued, the above is also applicable to human thought. That is, just like language is productive and systematic, so is thought. There is no non-arbitrary limit constraining the length of thoughts; like sentences, the number of different thoughts we can have is infinite. And just as sentences are related to each other in a systematic way, thoughts too are related to each other systematically.

Note again that this is a difference in kind, not just a difference in degree. Some human thoughts are not just more complicated than animal thoughts, they are structured in a productive and systematic way that is unavailable to non-human animals. It might seem paradoxical to try to express in language the sort of thoughts that would or would not be possible without the underlying mechanisms of language that generate them.

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But these underlying mechanisms are of course not linguistic in nature — for if they were they would be explanatorily vacuous in regard to how language and thought work. As will be detailed in the next section, the underlying mechanisms of language include the process that creates recursive and hierarchically structured expressions — this process takes place before expressions are given a phonological or semantic interpretation in a particular natural language.

With that in mind, consider the thought experiment from Reinhart 2ff. She imagines a primate that has acquired by some mystery of genetic development the full set of human cognitive abilities but that does not have the language faculty. This fictitious primate would have, in addition to its cognitive abilities that allow it to think like its fellow primates, a set of concepts that is the same as that of humans and a set of sensorimotor systems that enable it to perceive and code information in sounds.


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Moreover, Reinhart imagines that this primate would also have the human system of logic, the abstract formal system that contains an inventory of abstract symbols, connectives, functions, and definitions necessary for inference. Given the nature of this primate, then, what would it be able to do with these systems? That is, given all these additions but lacking the language faculty, can this fictitious primate add to its thinking abilities the sorts of thoughts that display productivity and systematicity and that at present appear to be unique to humans?

Reinhart argues that it could not. At first blush this seems to be a surprising claim. If the primate has acquired the rich conceptual system of humans then presumably its preexisting inference system should allow it to use these newly acquired systems to construct more sophisticated theories that it can then use to, say, better navigate a complex terrain or make better and more complex inferences about its world.

But this is not the case.

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What prevents this fictitious primate from making use of the new systems and concepts it has acquired is the fact that our inference system operates on propositions , not on concepts. The primate can of course communicate its preexisting concepts to its fellows, and it can make inferences typical of primates, but since it does not have the ability to create recursive and hierarchically structured expressions it cannot construct or comprehend propositions necessary for higher-order inference.

In other words, this imagined primate has concepts and knowledge of first-order logic, which it can use and comprehend, but that is not enough to produce and comprehend propositions nor to make second-order and higher-order inferences. In order to be able to do the latter, the primate in the thought experiment must — but does not — possess recursion. A fortiori, this primate cannot comprehend the entailment relations between propositions — it cannot think those sorts of thoughts. Now compare this fictitious primate to real world humans: we can think those sorts of thoughts. This is because the way in which the underlying mechanisms of language work in humans is by providing us with higher-order logic cf.

Crain on the relation between natural language and classical logic , by providing us with a computational system that creates recursive and hierarchically structured expressions that display productivity and systematicity and that we use to, amongst other uses, talk and think about the world cf. In what follows, then, I want to pursue the stronger claim in regard to language being an instrument of thought, and the evidence that may be adduced in its favour.

The type of evidence and sorts of arguments can be divided into two kinds: the first is the argument from linguistics , according to which the externalisation of language — in, say, verbal communication — is a peripheral phenomenon because the phonological features of expressions in linguistic computations are secondary and perhaps irrelevant to the conceptual-intentional features of the expressions. The second is the design-features argument , according to which the design features of language, especially when seen from the perspective of their internal structure, suggest that language developed and functions for purposes that are not primarily those of communication.

A strong argument in favour of language being primarily an instrument of thought has to do with the phonological properties of lexical items. Briefly, the idea is that the internal computational processes of the language faculty syntax in a broad sense generate linguistic objects that are employed by the conceptual-intentional systems systems of thought and the sensorimotor systems to yield language production and comprehension.

Notice that on this view the language faculty is embedded within, but separate from, the performance systems. Phon contains information in a form interpretable by the sensorimotor systems, including linear precedence, stress, temporal order, prosodic and syllable structure, and other articulatory features. Sem contains information interpretable by the systems of thought, including event and quantification structure, and certain arrays of semantic features. The expression Exp is generated by the operation Merge, which takes objects already constructed and constructs from them a new object.

If two objects are merged, and principles of efficient computation hold, then neither will be changed — this is indeed the result of the recursive operation that generates Exp. Such expressions are not the same as linguistic utterances but rather provide the information required for the sensorimotor systems and the systems of thought to function, largely in language-independent ways. In other words, the sensorimotor systems and the systems of thought operate independently of but at times in close interaction with the faculty of language.

A mapping to two interfaces is necessary because the systems have different and often conflicting requirements. That is, the systems of thought require a particular sort of hierarchical structure in order to, for example, calculate relations such as scope; the sensorimotor systems, on the other hand, often require the elimination of this hierarchy because, for example, pronunciation must take place serially.

The instructions at the Sem interface that are interpreted by the performance systems are used in acts of talking and thinking about the world — in, say, reasoning or organising action. On this view, then, linguistic expressions provide a perspective in the form of a conceptual structure on the world, for it is only via language that certain perspectives are available to us and to our thought processes.

This is the sense in which I take language to be an instrument of thought. Language does not structure human thought in a Whorfian way, nor does it merely express pre-formed thoughts; rather, language with its expressions arranged hierarchically and recursively provides us with a unique way of thinking and talking about the world. Lexical items, then, and all expressions generated from them, are linguistic objects with a double interface property: they have phonological and semantic features through which the linguistic computations can interact with other cognitive systems — indeed, the only principles allowed under the minimalist program are those that can function at the interfaces.

Thus, if one were to imagine an order of operations, the process would be as follows: first a lexical item is created with syntactic, phonological, and semantic features. Then, in the process known as Spell Out, the phonological features are sent to the sensorimotor interface, leaving the syntactic and semantic features together to be sent to the conceptual-intentional interface cf.

Burton-Roberts This is strong evidence in favour of the thesis that language is an instrument of thought, for the central computations in which lexical meanings are produced are carried out independently of any consideration as to how or whether they are to be communicated. Thus, the externalisation of language is a peripheral phenomenon in the sense that the phonological features of expressions in linguistic computations are peripheral to the syntactic and semantic features of these expressions. In addition to the above, we have independent evidence from comparative, neuropathological, developmental, and neuroscientific research that supports the existence of an asymmetry between the interfaces in favour of the semantic side, pushing externalisation to the periphery.


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The work of Laura-Ann Petitto, for example, has shown that speech per se is not critical to the human language acquisition process. That is, the acquisition of language occurs in the same way in all healthy children, irrespective of the modality in which the child is exposed to language speech in hearing children, sign in deaf children, and even the tactile modality. This suggests that the brain is hardwired to tune in to the structure and meaning of what is expressed, but that the modality through which this is transmitted is irrelevant Petitto In other words, the syntax and semantics of language are processed in the same brain site regardless of the modality in which they are expressed and perceived.

Such evidence gives weight to the biolinguistic argument that syntax and semantics are computed together without recourse to the way in which if at all the product of this computation say, lexical meanings is to be externalised. There is further evidence of this sort: it appears that the neural specialization for processing language structure is not modifiable, whereas the neural pathways for externalising language are highly modifiable Petitto et al. This again suggests that the language areas of the brain are optimized for processing linguistic structures and meaning, and that their externalisation is not only secondary but also that their type is not fixed — any modality would do as long as the brain can interpret the required linguistic patterns in the input.

Recent work by Ding et al. These cortical circuits track abstract linguistic structures that are internally constructed and that are based on syntax. Further evidence of the modality independence of language, indeed the condition under which it is most acute, comes from cases where there is practically no externalisation perhaps only the ability to say a few phonemes but where the receptive language ability is completely intact.

This form of developmental speech dyspraxia suggests that the ability to comprehend language and make normal grammaticality judgments does not depend on normal language production Stromswold In other words, as the work of Caplan et al. That is, the linguistic competence at the syntactic and semantic levels remains intact but these patients have difficulty in linking this competence with the performance systems — they have difficulty in externalising the internally constructed expressions.

The above is direct evidence in support of the claim that there exists a separation in the underlying mechanisms of language between, on the one hand, the processing of structure and meaning, and, on the other hand, their externalisation. That is, not only is the processing of non-language information dissociated from the processing of information used in language, but also that the processing of the language information itself is separated into Phon and Sem , just as biolinguistics predicts. Note that this asymmetry regards the underlying mechanisms of language and thus does not apply in the same way to natural languages.

So whilst it makes sense to separate Phon from Sem when one studies the underlying mechanisms of language, specific natural languages are a different matter. That is, a natural language encapsulates the use of the Phon and Sem interfaces — in conjunction with other modules — in the act of communication via sound or sign, and so the Phon interface is inseparable from what a natural language is and the way it is used.

In contrast to this, the claim that language is an instrument of thought regards the part of the underlying mechanisms of natural languages that creates the hierarchical and recursive expressions that provide humans with a unique way of thinking about the world. This part on its own is of course not yet a particular natural language, for it is not yet in a form in which it can be externalised. In order to become a natural language it needs to be paired with the Phon interface and then, together with other systems, be used in the act of communication.

Returning to the double interface object, one might wonder why the asymmetry between the interfaces is in favour the semantic side, pushing externalisation to the periphery. I think the answer to this comes in the form of the design-features argument. If one does not share the general framework of biolinguistics, then they will perhaps be unconvinced by the argument from linguistics above. The design-features argument , on the other hand, has much wider scope and is not entirely dependent upon a particular linguistics school of thought.

By design features I mean the kind of features one discovers upon investigating language as a system in its own right. Such features include, amongst many others, displacement, linear order, agreement, and anaphora. One may then investigate the communicative and computational efficiency of these features as they relate to language as a whole system, and ask whether these features are better optimised for communication or for computation. Of course, many comparisons of this sort can be made, and some particular selection that depicts a conflict between communicative efficiency and computational efficiency might seem tendentious, but I think that the conflicts of the sort highlighted below, in which computational efficiency wins out, represent one of several chinks in the armour of the orthodoxy that assumes that the function of language is communication.

Let us now consider the case of the explanation of the linear order of expressions.

The linear order imposed on verbal expressions is not a language-specific constraint: it is not a consequence of the structure of the language faculty. Rather, it is a necessary consequence of the structure of the sensorimotor systems and the obvious fact that expressions cannot be produced or comprehended in parallel. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. On the traditional Cartesian picture, knowledge of one's own internal world -- of one's current thoughts and feelings -- is the unproblematic foundation for all knowledge.

The philosophical problem is to explain how we can move beyond this knowledge, how we can form a conception of an objective world, and how we can know that the world answers to our conception of it. This On the traditional Cartesian picture, knowledge of one's own internal world -- of one's current thoughts and feelings -- is the unproblematic foundation for all knowledge. This book is in the anti-Cartesian tradition that seeks to reverse the order of explanation.

Robert Stalnaker argues that we can understand our knowledge of our thoughts and feelings only by viewing ourselves from the outside, and by seeing our inner lives as features of the world as it is in itself. He uses the framework of possible worlds both to articulate a conception of the world as it is in itself, and to represent the relation between our objective knowledge and our knowledge of our place in the world. He explores an analogy between knowledge of one's own phenomenal experience and self-locating knowledge -- knowledge of who one is, and what time it is.

He criticizes the philosopher's use of the notion of acquaintance to characterize our intimate epistemic relation to the phenomenal character of our experience, and explores the tension between an anti-individualist conception of the contents of thought and the thesis that we have introspective access to that content. The conception of knowledge that emerges is a contextualist and anti-foundationalist one but, it is argued, a conception that is compatible with realism about both the external and internal worlds. Get A Copy.

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