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Linguistics and Language

Linguistics and Language

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Exploring the Evolution of Mind and Brain

Scholars have long been captivated by the parallels between birdsong and human speech and language. In this book, leading scholars draw on the latest research to explore what birdsong can tell us about the biology of human speech and language and the consequences for evolutionary biology. They examine the cognitive and neural similarities between birdsong learning and speech and language acquisition, considering vocal imitation, auditory learning, an early vocalization phase ("babbling"), the structural properties of birdsong and human language, and the striking similarities between the neural organization of learning and vocal production in birdsong and human speech.

After outlining the basic issues involved in the study of both language and evolution, the contributors compare birdsong and language in terms of acquisition, recursion, and core structural properties, and then examine the neurobiology of song and speech, genomic factors, and the emergence and evolution of language.

Contributors: Hermann Ackermann, Gabriël J.L. Beckers, Robert C. Berwick, Johan J. Bolhuis, Noam Chomsky, Frank Eisner, Martin Everaert, Michale S. Fee, Olga Fehér, Simon E. Fisher, W. Tecumseh Fitch, Jonathan B. Fritz, Sharon M.H. Gobes, Riny Huijbregts, Eric Jarvis, Robert Lachlan, Ann Law, Michael A. Long, Gary F. Marcus, Carolyn McGettigan, Daniel Mietchen, Richard Mooney, Sanne Moorman, Kazuo Okanoya, Christophe Pallier, Irene M. Pepperberg, Jonathan F. Prather, Franck Ramus, Eric Reuland, Constance Scharff, Sophie K. Scott, Neil Smith, Ofer Tchernichovski, Carel ten Cate, Christopher K. Thompson, Frank Wijnen, Moira Yip, Wolfram Ziegler, Willem Zuidema

Willard Van Orman Quine begins this influential work by declaring, "Language is a social art. In acquiring it we have to depend entirely on intersubjectively available cues as to what to say and when." As Patricia Smith Churchland notes in her foreword to this new edition, with Word and Object Quine challenged the tradition of conceptual analysis as a way of advancing knowledge. The book signaled twentieth-century philosophy's turn away from metaphysics and what Churchland calls the "phony precision" of conceptual analysis.

In the course of his discussion of meaning and the linguistic mechanisms of objective reference, Quine considers the indeterminacy of translation, brings to light the anomalies and conflicts implicit in our language's referential apparatus, clarifies semantic problems connected with the imputation of existence, and marshals reasons for admitting or repudiating each of various categories of supposed objects. In addition to Churchland's foreword, this edition offers a new preface by Quine's student and colleague Dagfinn Follesdal that describes the never-realized plans for a second edition of Word and Object, in which Quine would offer a more unified treatment of the public nature of meaning, modalities, and propositional attitudes.

Norms and Exploitations

In Lexical Analysis, Patrick Hanks offers a wide-ranging empirical investigation of word use and meaning in language. The book fills the need for a lexically based, corpus-driven theoretical approach that will help people understand how words go together in collocational patterns and constructions to make meanings. Such an approach is now possible, Hanks writes, because of the availability of new forms of evidence (corpora, the Internet) and the development of new methods of statistical analysis and inferencing.

Hanks offers a new theory of language, the Theory of Norms and Exploitations (TNE), which makes a systematic distinction between normal and abnormal usage—between rules for using words normally and rules for exploiting such norms in metaphor and other creative use of language. Using hundreds of carefully chosen citations from corpora and other texts, he shows how matching each use of a word against established contextual patterns plays a large part in determining the meaning of an utterance. His goal is to develop a coherent and practical lexically driven theory of language that takes into account the immense variability of everyday usage and that shows that this variability is rule governed rather than random. Such a theory will complement other theoretical approaches to language, including cognitive linguistics, construction grammar, generative lexicon theory, priming theory, and pattern grammar.

In A Syntax of Substance, David Adger proposes a new approach to phrase structure that eschews functional heads and labels structures exocentrically. His proposal simultaneously simplifies the syntactic system and restricts the range of possible structures, ruling out the ubiquitous (remnant) roll-up derivations and forcing a separation of arguments from their apparent heads. This new system has a number of empirical consequences, which Adger explores in the domain of relational nominals across different language families, including Germanic, Romance, Celtic, Polynesian, and Semitic. He shows that the relationality of such nouns as hand, edge, or mother—which seem to have as part of their meaning a relation between substances—is actually part of the syntactic representation in which they are used rather than an inherent part of their meaning. This empirical outcome follows directly from the new syntactic system, as does a novel analysis of PP complements to nouns and possessors. Given this, he argues that nouns can, in general, be thought of as simply specifications of substance, differentiating them from true predicates.

A Syntax of Substance offers an innovative contribution to debates in theoretical syntax about the nature of syntactic representations and how they connect to semantic interpretation and linear order.

These fifteen original essays address the core semantic concepts of reference and referring from both philosophical and linguistic perspectives. After an introductory essay that casts current trends in reference and referring in terms of an ongoing dialogue between Fregean and Russellian approaches, the book addresses specific topics, balanc
ing breadth of coverage with thematic unity.

The contributors, all leading or emerging scholars, address trenchant neo-Fregean challenges to the direct reference position; consider what positive claims can be made about the mechanism of reference; address the role of a theory of reference within broader theoretical context; and investigate other kinds of linguistic expressions used in referring activities that may themselves be referring expressions.

The topical unity and accessibility of the essays, the stage-setting introductory essay, and the comprehensive index combine to make Reference and Referring, along with the other books in the Topics in Contemporary Philosophy series, appropriate for use in advanced undergraduate and graduate courses.

How is the information we gather from the world through our sensory and motor apparatus converted into language? It is obvious that there is an interface between language and sensorimotor cognition because we can talk about what we see and do. In this book, Alistair Knott argues that this interface is more direct than commonly assumed. He proposes that the syntax of a concrete sentence—a sentence that reports a direct sensorimotor experience—closely reflects the sensorimotor processes involved in the experience. In fact, he argues, the syntax of the sentence can be interpreted as a description of these sensorimotor processes.

Knott focuses on a simple concrete episode: a man grabbing a cup. He presents detailed models of the sensorimotor processes involved in experiencing this episode (drawing on research in psychology and neuroscience) and of the syntactic structure of the transitive sentence reporting the episode (drawing on Chomskyan Minimalist syntactic theory). He proposes that these two independently motivated models are closely linked—that the logical form of the sentence can be given a detailed sensorimotor characterization and that, more generally, many of the syntactic principles understood in Minimalism as encoding innate linguistic knowledge are actually sensorimotor in origin.

Knott's sensorimotor reinterpretation of Chomsky opens the way for a psychological account of sentence processing that is compatible with a Chomskyan account of syntactic universals, suggesting a way to reconcile Chomsky's theory of syntax with the empiricist models of language often viewed as Mimimalism's competitors.

Suppletion, Superlatives, and the Structure of Words

This groundbreaking study of the morphology of comparison yields a surprising result: that even in suppletion (the wholesale replacement of one stem by a phonologically unrelated stem, as in good-better-best) there emerge strikingly robust patterns, virtually exceptionless generalizations across languages. Jonathan David Bobaljik describes the systematicity in suppletion, and argues that at least five generalizations are solid contenders for the status of linguistic universals. The major topics discussed include suppletion, comparative and superlative formation, deadjectival verbs, and lexical decomposition. Bobaljik’s primary focus is on morphological theory, but his argument also aims to integrate evidence from a variety of subfields into a coherent whole.

In the course of his analysis, Bobaljik argues that the assumptions needed bear on choices among theoretical frameworks and that the framework of Distributed Morphology has the right architecture to support the account. In addition to the theoretical implications of the generalizations, Bobaljik suggests that the striking patterns of regularity in what otherwise appears to be the most irregular of linguistic domains provide compelling evidence for Universal Grammar.

The book strikes a unique balance between empirical breadth and theoretical detail. The phenomenon that is the main focus of the argument, suppletion in adjectival gradation, is rare enough that Bobaljik is able to present an essentially comprehensive description of the facts; at the same time, it is common enough to offer sufficient variation to explore the question of universals over a significant dataset of more than three hundred languages.

Scrambling, Choice Functions, and Differential Marking

In Indefinite Objects, Luis López presents a novel approach to the syntax-semantics interface using indefinite noun phrases as a database. Traditional approaches map structural configurations to semantic interpretations directly; López links configuration to a mode of semantic composition, with the latter yielding the interpretation.

The polyvalent behavior of indefinites has long been explored by linguists who have been interested in their syntax, semantics, and case morphology, and López's contribution can be seen as a synthesis of findings from several traditions. He argues, first, that scrambled indefinite objects are composed by means of Function Application preceded by Choice Function while objects in situ are composed by means of Restrict. This difference yields the different interpretive possibilities of indefinite objects. López's more nuanced approach to the syntax-semantics interface turns out to be rich in empirical consequences.

Second, he proposes that short scrambling also yields Differential Marking, provided that context conditions are fulfilled, while in situ objects remain unmarked. Thus, López contributes to the extensive literature on Differential Object Marking by showing that syntactic configuration is a crucial factor.

López substantiates this approach with data from Spanish, Hindi-Urdu, Persian (Farsi), Kiswahili, Romanian, and German.

Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf

The pioneering linguist Benjamin Whorf (1897–1941) grasped the relationship between human language and human thinking: how language can shape our innermost thoughts. His basic thesis is that our perception of the world and our ways of thinking about it are deeply influenced by the structure of the languages we speak. The writings collected in this volume include important papers on the Maya, Hopi, and Shawnee languages, as well as more general reflections on language and meaning.

Whorf's ideas about the relation of language and thought have always appealed to a wide audience, but their reception in expert circles has alternated between dismissal and applause. Recently the language sciences have headed in directions that give Whorf's thinking a renewed relevance. Hence this new edition of Whorf's classic work is especially timely.

The second edition includes all the writings from the first edition as well as John Carroll's original introduction, a new foreword by Stephen Levinson of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics that puts Whorf's work in historical and contemporary context, and new indexes. In addition, this edition offers Whorf's "Yale Report," an important work from Whorf's mature oeuvre.

Since it was introduced to the English-speaking world in 1962, Lev Vygotsky's Thought and Language has become recognized as a classic foundational work of cognitive science. Its 1962 English translation must certainly be considered one of the most important and influential books ever published by the MIT Press. In this highly original exploration of human mental development, Vygotsky analyzes the relationship between words and consciousness, arguing that speech is social in its origins and that only as children develop does it become internalized verbal thought.

In 1986, the MIT Press published a new edition of the original translation by Eugenia Hanfmann and Gertrude Vakar, edited by Vygotsky scholar Alex Kozulin, that restored the work's complete text and added materials to help readers better understand Vygotsky's thought. Kozulin also contributed an introductory essay that offered new insight into Vygotsky's life, intellectual milieu, and research methods. This expanded edition offers Vygotsky's text, Kozulin's essay, a subject index, and a new foreword by Kozulin that maps the ever-growing influence of Vygotsky's ideas.

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