Brownian thought space

Cognitive science, mostly, but more a sometimes structured random walk about things.

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Location: Rochester, United States

Chronically curious モ..

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ignoring "Ignorance of Language"

Here's a book to be avoided if you don't have too much time: Ignorance of Language by Michael Devitt. Yet another of the "...provocative challenges to [Chomskyan] orthodoxy". What's particularly bad is the repetitive style with enough footnotes to warrant a separate book all by themselves. Worse is the use of "she/her", as in
If a speaker’s competence in a language consists in having knowledge-that of its rules then, assuming RTM [the Representational Theory of Mind], she must represent those rules.
Somehow this is... politically strange. That aside, here's the view from the doorstep (couldn't quite make it past Chapter 1). Take an example. In English, the determiner "the" typically comes before a noun(phrase), as in "the boy" or "the stranger in the strange land". What determines whether "the" comes before or after the noun(phrase)? One possibility is that there is a rule in the mind which says, essentially, to put the "the" before the noun(phrase). The second is that there is no such rule, but when the pair (the, boy) is sent out for `externalization', in speech for example, some process in the motor system forces the order. So, the order is an epiphenomenon of different, presumably rule-governed requirements, and is not part of the linguistic system itself. Devitt says that Chomsky denies the second possibility. But I don' think he does, for example in his Science paper and its followup. Bottom-line. Whether or not something is required as a representation (either a structure or a process) is, as far as I'm concerned, an empirical question. I think it is correct to speak of representations in as far as they help in describing any functionality. So, talk of Nouns or of X-bars is perfectly fine. Just as talk of the DNA repair system is fine, and one can (self included) skip the Biochemistry 101 and mover straight onto Molecular Biology 609..


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