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The Semantic Illusion. R. E. Jennings Laboratory for Logic and Experimental Philosophy Simon Fraser University jennings@sfu.ca. The Semantic Illusion. R. E. Jennings Laboratory for Logic and Experimental Philosophy Simon Fraser University jennings@sfu.ca. The Semantic Illusion.

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The Semantic Illusion


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    1. The Semantic Illusion R. E. Jennings Laboratory for Logic and Experimental Philosophy Simon Fraser University jennings@sfu.ca

    2. The Semantic Illusion R. E. Jennings Laboratory for Logic and Experimental Philosophy Simon Fraser University jennings@sfu.ca

    3. The Semantic Illusion R. E. Jennings Laboratory for Logic and Experimental Philosophy Simon Fraser University jennings@sfu.ca

    4. I The Physics of Language

    5. Language is physical • We commit acts of speech or of inscription. • The acts have physical effects. • A physical theory of language will identify meanings with their physical (neural and other) types of effects. • Meanings are physical types. SFU/LLEP

    6. Language is physical • We commit acts of speech or of inscription. • The acts have physical effects. • A physical theory of language will identify meanings with their physical (neural and other) types of effects. • Meanings are physical types. SFU/LLEP

    7. Language is physical • We commit acts of speech or of inscription. • The acts have physical effects. • A physical theory of language will identify meanings with their physical (neural and other) types of effects. • Meanings are physical types. SFU/LLEP

    8. Language is physical • We commit acts of speech or of inscription. • The acts have physical effects. • A physical theory of language will identify meanings with their physical (neural and other) types of effects. • Meanings are physical types. SFU/LLEP

    9. Language is physical • We commit acts of speech or of inscription. • The acts have physical effects. • A physical theory of language will identify meanings with their physical (neural and other) types of effects. • In such a theory, meanings are physical types. • But what about. . . SFU/LLEP

    10. Language is physical • We commit acts of speech or of inscription. • The acts have physical effects. • A physical theory of language will identify meanings with their physical (neural and other) types of effects. • In such a theory, meanings are physical types. • But what about . . . SFU/LLEP

    11. Convention

    12. Convention

    13. Convention

    14. Convention

    15. Convention!

    16. Convention! Their causal roleis conventional!!

    17. Yes, yes, we hear you, conventional • Yes, their causal significance is conventional. • But, for a physical theory (shunning intention), this means: • The causal relationships that constitute their connection with the world have themselves a causal history. SFU/LLEP

    18. Engendering We produce the vocal and inscriptional complexes that we do with the causal significance that they have (a) because our linguistic ancestors produced the vocal and inscriptional complexes that they did with the causal significance that they had. & (b) because of the facts of engendering. SFU/LLEP

    19. To sum up • A physical theory of language will tell us the principles governing the causal history of the causal relationships between linguistic activity and the world. SFU/LLEP

    20. II The Biology of Language

    21. Meanings are Species • If a meaning is a physical type, then it is a species. • A species is: • The union of a set of populations temporally ordered by an engendering relation. • A species is a non-classical set • (Every member of (almost) every species has ancestors that are not members of the species.) • Members of the same population have similar morphological profiles. • Every species of effect that constitutes a meaning has ancestral effects that are not meanings (since we have non-linguistic ancestors.)

    22. Prolific serial composition of words from a limited vocabulary of phonemes Serial composition of codons from triples of amino acids Suggestive Parallels SFU/LLEP

    23. Prolific serial composition of sentences from that vocabulary of words Compositions of chains of codons in a reading frame Suggestive Parallels SFU/LLEP

    24. Genes as DNA or RNA molecules Their expression in protein synthesis Phonemes and other basic components of speech Their neural effects in the recipient Suggestive Parallels SFU/LLEP

    25. Regulation of gene-expression at various levels: Transcription Processing Transport to site Regulation of speech components at various levels: Suggestive Parallels SFU/LLEP

    26. Regulation of Neural Expression of Speech • Circumstances of utterance • “I’ll have breakfast only if there is insufficient food.” • “If any student touches my whisky, I’ll know it.” (marking the level, or proper surveillance?) SFU/LLEP

    27. Regulation of Neural Expression of Speech • Variations in prosodic dimensions of presentation (stress, pitch contour, lengthenings) “What is this thing called love” “What is this thing called, Love?” SFU/LLEP

    28. Regulation of Neural Expression of Speech • Variations in prosodic dimensions of presentation (stress, pitch contour, lengthenings) • “What is this thing called love?” • “What is this thing called, Love?” SFU/LLEP

    29. Regulation of Neural Expression of Speech • Variations in prosodic dimensions of presentation (stress, pitch contour, lengthenings) • “What is this thing called love?” • “What is this thing called, Love?” BBC Contrast: “No trees have fallen over here” SFU/LLEP

    30. Regulation of Neural Expression of Speech • Variations in prosodic dimensions of presentation (stress, pitch contour, lengthenings) • “What is this thing called love” • “What is this thing called, Love” • Contrast: “No trees have fallen over here.” Mary Shaw SFU/LLEP

    31. Replication • Apprehension of speech involves replication of syntax. • In fact a rehearsal as though for its reproduction. • Prosodic and circumstantial regulations promote accurate replication. • There is a non-zero error rate. SFU/LLEP

    32. Bigger organism implies more cells, not bigger ones. Longer prose work implies more sentences not bigger ones *. *Kant, Mill, John Harrison are exceptions. One More Parallel: Modularity SFU/LLEP

    33. Protein synthesis depends upon weak forces effective only at variable but small molecular distances within the endoplasmic reticulum and other organelles. Apprehension of syntactic structure depends upon variable limits of sentence length. Parts must not be beyond the capacity of prosodic and contextual cueing. Modularity Cont’d SFU/LLEP

    34. Protein synthesis depends upon weak forces effective only at variable but small molecular distances within the endoplasmic reticulum and other organelles. Apprehension of syntactic structure depends upon variable limits of sentence length. Parts must not be beyond the capacity of prosodic and contextual cueing. Modularity Cont’d SFU/LLEP

    35. III Logicalization All logical, naturally occurring connectives are descended from lexical items

    36. Language is messy • Since logical meanings are the products of evolutionary processes, we ought to expect diversity, complexity, and mess rather than unity, simplicity, and order. • “One connective: one meaning” is linguistic creationism. • In a word, we ought to expect: SFU/LLEP

    37. Polysemy pare: “You may have pie or you may have cake” Conjunction/Disjunction is not the salient distinction between and and or. SFU/LLEP

    38. Polysemy • The Myth of Exclusive Or • Compare: • “You will have pie or you will have cake” • “You may have pie or you may have cake” • Conjunction/Disjunction is not the salient distinction between and and or. SFU/LLEP

    39. The Gricean Urn:Invoking Occam in the wrong locum • In Biology: theoretical foundations are expensive. Life-forms are cheap. • In Language: theoretical foundations are expensive. Meanings are cheap. • So: • (a) Keep theoretical constructs to a minimum. • (b) Accept theoretically explainable diversities of meaning. SFU/LLEP

    40. Some Examples • “It never rains, but we all own umbrellas anyway.” • “It never rains but it pours.” • “My, but it’s a beauty!” • “No one but his mother calls him Hulon” SFU/LLEP

    41. More Examples • “He is thirty-nine or he is forty.” • “He may be thirty-nine or he may be forty.” • “He must have left early, or I would have seen him.” • “Lou is taller than Mary or Nancy.” • “Lou is the sister of Mary or Nancy.” SFU/LLEP

    42. Lexical origins of some connectives • But from butan (by outan = outside) • Or from other(= second) • If from gyfan (give) • We can trace the changes by which they acquire connective uses. SFU/LLEP

    43. But: An illustration • Spatial but (“but the house”) • Abstract categorial but (“no reward but glory”) • Circumstantial but (“No course is forgivable but that he should relent”) • Ellipsis of that (“I will not be exalted but you shall have share in my glory”) SFU/LLEP

    44. Mutations • Connectives and their immediate ancestors are less robust than lexical items. • Example: unless(1) in earliest uses: • on [a condition] less than that (= and not) • A on less than that B = A and not B • However, always within the scope of a negation SFU/LLEP

    45. Mutations cont’d • Not (A unless(1) B) read as (Not A) unless B yields • (Not A) unless(2) B (unless(2)= or = if not) • (identical occasions of use) + (novel syntax) >>> (novel meaning) SFU/LLEP

    46. Stages of Mutation • Initial scope misapprehension • Incubation stage (The new meaning is hidden beneath the old.) • Migrations to new environments with new meaning are sustainable. • Ambiguity in originating environment. • Disambiguation by marking (just any, even if, for all, just in case etc.) SFU/LLEP

    47. But Resumed • Or (if not) meaning from and not meaning by mutation: Not (A but B) / (Not A) but B • And+ meaning from or meaning by mutation (helped by ellipsis of that) • “I would have gone but (that) I was afraid” • A but B (= A if not B) read as • A, but B (= A, and+ B) SFU/LLEP

    48. What conjunctive but does • Account must cover non-commutative and such cases as: • “He got here, but he got here late.” • “He got here late, but he got here.” • A, but B Subtract from the effects of A, those effects that it shares with the negation of or the salient alternative to B. SFU/LLEP

    49. Concluding Remarks • The biology of language satisfies the parts that semantics can’t reach. • It is essential for framing hypotheses about the emergence of language both in ontogeny and in phylogeny. SFU/LLEP

    50. Concluding Remarks • Language is crude. • What has centrally changed in brain-language co-evolution is the diminished scale of the crudity … • Matched by increased resolving power of the brain’s capacity to exploit effects in novel ways. SFU/LLEP