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From:And Rosta <a.rosta@...>
Date:Friday, October 26, 2001, 12:17
> As I understand it, the chain of reasoning is: > > [a] Language is rule-governed: utterances systematically obey > discoverable rules. (This is a hypothesis, of course, but the > evidence seems to be strongly in its favour.) > [b] Language is in our heads: we have linguistic competence. (I take > this as a given; the only alternative is that supernatural creatures > are speaking through us. :-)) > [c] Given (a) and (b), it follows that there are rules in our heads. > > I know that this is not a proper syllogism or anything, and it may > not strictly follow the scientific method (I know far too little > about the history or philosophy of science). But I just can't see how > [c] could be a controversial claim.
I think [c] should be our best guess at what the truth is, but it doesn't follow from the [a] and [b], and I do see how [c] could be disputed. It could be that minds generate language rulelessly and that the discoverable rules are emergent properties of a complex system, rather as, say, people walking around a plaza are not individually obeying any rules of traffic flow, yet the flow of people around the plaza can nonetheless be accurately modelled by rules. Economics would be a good example of an academic discipline where this is fairly clearly the case: economic theory mainly deals with human behaviour but its laws aren't in the minds of individual economic agents. Not that I think that this really applies to language, but I do trot it out when people complain to me that such and such a rule or theory is not psychologically plausible, as part of my conception of language as a nonpsychological object. --And.