On the origins
of linguistic meaning
4 September 2003, 3:15 pm
Kloveniersburgwal 29, 1011 JV Amsterdam
Language is an organism
coevolving with the human brain. Gerald Edelman (1987) has described the Darwinian
development and organization in neuronal structures. As Luc Steels' (1999) robots
reveal, a simple architectural breakthrough can lead to elaborate sensori-motor
complexity. In the evolution of language, the essential cognitive step is the
birth of syntax. Its simplicity is due to its physical context, for the origins
of linguistic meaning are strictly referential. Syntax, in other words, is the
construction of meaning, and meaning is the linguistic construction of reality.
As Dekker, Van Rooy & Veltman (2003) observe, it is "not clear [...]
which part of a communicated content depends on conventional meaning and which
part evolves from practical reasoning". This coexistence of meaning and
interpretation underpins the mutualism between language and the brain. The use
of language requires the speaking mind to find suitable referents for each meaning.
At the same time, the need to look for external referents is removed by the
power of linguistic conceptualization, effectively diminishing our capacity
for direct observation (Kortlandt 1985). The impact of linguistic behavior on
human societies suggests that the benefits of language are matched by the constraints
which it imposes on its speakers.
|Dekker, Van Rooy &
||Paul Dekker, Robert van
Rooy, and Frank Veltman, "The evolution of meaning
in a game-theoretical setting: Cognitive constraints and experimental architecture".
NWO Cognition Programme integrated research project proposal.
|| Gerald M. Edelman,
Neural Darwinism: The theory of neuronal group selection. New York:
||George W. Grace,
The linguistic construction of reality. London: Croom Helm.
||Frederik Kortlandt, "A
parasitological view of non-constructible sets". Ursula Pieper and
Gerhard Stickel, eds., Studia linguistica diachronica et synchronica:
Werner Winter, sexagenario anno MCMLXXXIII gratis animis ab eius collegis,
amicis discipulisque oblata. Berlin: Mouton, pp. 477-483.
||Luc Steels, The talking
heads experiment, Volume I: Words and meanings. Antwerpen: VUB
Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
|| Jeroen Wiedenhof, "Nexus
and the birth of syntax". Acta linguistica Hafniensia,
Volume 28, pp. 139-150.
modified: 27 August 2003