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Philosophy of Language

Essays in Honor of Jacques Mehler
Edited by Emmanuel Dupoux

In the early 1960s, the bold project of the emerging field of cognition was to put the human mind under the scrutiny of rational inquiry, through the conjoined efforts of philosophy, linguistics, computer science, psychology, and neuroscience. Forty years later, cognitive science is a flourishing academic field. The contributions to this collection, written in honor of Jacques Mehler, a founder of the field of psycholinguistics, assess the progress of cognitive science. The questions addressed include: What have we learned or not learned about language, brain, and cognition?

The Integration of Habits and Rules

Using sentence comprehension as a case study for all of cognitive science, David Townsend and Thomas Bever offer an integration of two major approaches, the symbolic-computational and the associative-connectionist. The symbolic-computational approach emphasizes the formal manipulation of symbols that underlies creative aspects of language behavior. The associative-connectionist approach captures the intuition that most behaviors consist of accumulated habits.

A Quantificational Account

Since the late 1970s, the orthodox view of complex 'that' phrases (e.g., 'that woman eating a granola bar') has been that they are contextually sensitive devices of direct reference. In Complex Demonstratives, Jeffrey King challenges that orthodoxy, showing that quantificational accounts not only are as effective as direct reference accounts but also handle a wider range of data.

From Birth to Two Years

That children learn to speak so skillfully at a young age has long fascinated adults. Most children virtually master their native tongue even before learning to tie their shoelaces. The ability to acquire language has historically been regarded as a "gift"—a view given scientific foundation only in the present century by Noam Chomsky's theory of "universal grammar," which posits an innate knowledge of the principles that structure all languages.

Volume 1: Concept Structuring Systems and Volume 2: Typology and Process in Concept Structuring

In this two-volume set Leonard Talmy defines the field of cognitive semantics. He approaches the question of how language organizes conceptual material both at a general level and by analyzing a crucial set of particular conceptual domains: space and time, motion and location, causation and force interaction, and attention and viewpoint. Talmy maintains that these are among the most fundamental parameters by which language structures conception.

Typology and Process in Concept Structuring

In this two-volume set Leonard Talmy defines the field of cognitive semantics. He approaches the question of how language organizes conceptual material both at a general level and by analyzing a crucial set of particular conceptual domains: space and time, motion and location, causation and force interaction, and attention and viewpoint. Talmy maintains that these are among the most fundamental parameters by which language structures conception.

An Essay on Metarepresentation

Among the entities that can be mentally or linguistically represented are mental and linguistic representations themselves. That is, we can think and talk about speech and thought. This phenomenon is known as metarepresentation. An example is "Authors believe that people read books."

An Introduction to Minimalist Syntax

This unusual book takes the form of a dialogue between a linguist and another scientist. The dialogue takes place over six days, with each day devoted to a particular topic—and the ensuing digressions. The role of the linguist is to present the fundamentals of the minimalist program of contemporary generative grammar. Although the linguist serves essentially as a voice for Noam Chomsky's ideas, he is not intended to be a portrait of Chomsky himself.

Explanations seem to be a large and natural part of our cognitive lives. As Frank Keil and Robert Wilson write, "When a cognitive activity is so ubiquitous that it is expressed both in a preschooler's idle questions and in work that is the culmination of decades of scholarly effort, one has to ask whether we really have one and the same phenomenon or merely different cognitively based phenomena that are loosely, or even metaphorically, related."

The Theory of Generalized Conversational Implicature

When we speak, we mean more than we say. In this book Stephen C. Levinson explains some general processes that underlie presumptions in communication. This is the first extended discussion of preferred interpretation in language understanding, integrating much of the best research in linguistic pragmatics from the last two decades. Levinson outlines a theory of presumptive meanings, or preferred interpretations, governing the use of language, building on the idea of implicature developed by the philosopher H. P. Grice.